Rokita nomination held up; Big transportation vote next week
September 16, 2020
Rokita nomination held up by Golden Spike Winner; House eyes crucial transportation vote next week
Rokita nomination held up by Golden Spike Winner
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation voted to advance three nominees to the Amtrak board, sending them to the senate floor for final confirmation. However, Rail Passengers Association Golden Spike winner Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) placed a hold upon two nominees—including controversial candidate Todd Rokita, who voted to defund Amtrak on multiple occasions during his tenure in the U.S. House—until he received a credible confirmation of their support for Amtrak’s long-distance services.
Mayor Chris Koos and former Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg—both endorsed by Rail Passengers—advanced via a unanimous voice vote. Mr. Rokita, the former representative from Indiana, was passed by a 14 to 12 party-line vote with all Democrats voting “nay” over his anti-Amtrak voting record.
Sen. Moran voted to advance all three nominees, but delivered a statement explaining that he would place a hold on Ms. Feinberg and Mr. Rokita’s nominations until they had submitted, in writing, credible confirmation that they would use their position on the Amtrak board to maintain, increase, and improve service on the long-distance lines. Sen. Moran explained that while Mr. Koos had provided a satisfactory statement, he felt Ms. Feinberg’s submission could use more details. Mr. Rokita, meanwhile, ignored Sen. Moran’s request and failed to submit anything in writing.
Rail Passengers has worked hard to oppose Mr. Rokita’s nomination, and we are incredibly gratified by the actions of Sen. Moran, who we recognized in 2019 for his work to defend the Southwest Chief service.
“Most of the actions taken by Amtrak’s board members happen behind closed doors, with little public explanation of how or why board members voted on issues,” wrote Jim Mathews in an August letter to Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA). “Nevertheless, these actions have a big impact on the present and future of the U.S. passenger rail network—establishing new policies, providing corporate management and oversight, and helping decide major issues addressing who the railroad serves and what levels of service they receive… Given his voting record in Congress, putting Mr. Rokita on the Amtrak board would be too great a risk.”
You can read the full statement from Sen. Moran below (video of the statement starts at 0:55:07):
“As has been my practice with most Amtrak nominees, I have voted to advance them from the Commerce committee but have in most instances placed holds on their nomination pending their confirmation to me and several of my colleagues of their support for long-distance passenger rail service.
“This becomes particularly of value to me as the Amtrak leadership has altered their train passenger train schedules due to COVID-19, with a plan presumably in place that would determine when that passenger service would return. We’ve had an ongoing, perhaps ‘battle’ with Amtrak in regard to long-distance service and I want to be certain that the circumstances due to COVID-19 is not an excuse to diminish in any long-term, or really in any intermediate term, passenger service on the long-distance lines in the country.
"So I’ve asked each of the nominees that have been before our committee to provide me, in writing—this has also been of interest to the Senator from Mexico, Senator Udall, and the Senator from Colorado, Senator Gardner—and we generally have operated jointly with a request that each nominee confirms to us their support for long-distance passenger service, they will actively pursue achieving the goal of maintaining that service, increasing and improving that service. And with particular respect in regard to the Southwest Chief which runs through, among other states, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico, this all arose more than a year ago when Amtrak indicated they were going to replace passenger service with bus service on a significant portion of that line. So we’ve been engaged with Amtrak ever since.
"Mr. Koos has certainly complied with my request, and I voted for his confirmation, or his recommendation to be confirmed, today and I don’t expect anything further today; his words were satisfactory to me.
"Ms. Feinberg has responded, but I would like to hear more specifics from her.
"And Mr. Rokita has not responded to our request at all.
"So I’m simply announcing to those nominees, and perhaps to Amtrak and the Department of Transportation, that while I’m voting today to report them to the floor, I will place a hold on Ms. Feinberg and a hold on Mr. Rokita until I receive satisfaction that they are supporters of the Southwest Chief and the long-distance passenger service."
Help ensure pro-National Network voices on the Amtrak Board
Rail Passengers staff have spent countless hours exposing Mr. Rokita’s voting record on Amtrak related topics. While Sen. Moran has placed a hold on Mr. Rokita’s nomination, there is still a possibility he could be confirmed. It speaks volumes that he hasn’t honored Sen. Moran’s request for written confirmation of his support for Amtrak. Staff will continue to work with our Congressional partners to underscore our opposition to Mr. Rokita’s nomination. Please donate today! It’s through your support that we are able to oppose Todd Rokita’s Amtrak Board nomination!
House eyes crucial transportation vote next week
Leadership in both the House and the Senate are backing the inclusion of a surface transportation extension to a stopgap funding measure aimed at averting a government shutdown at the end of September. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said he expects the package to come to the House floor “earlier rather than later” next week.
Both the Fiscal Year 2020 budget and the FAST Act expire September 30th and will require extensions to continue essential government functions—including distribution of payments to Amtrak and the collection of fuel taxes used to fund road work and public transit. While the length of the Continuing Resolution is still being debated, transportation leaders have backed a one-year extension of the transportation law.
A group of 88 organizations led by the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials and the American Public Transportation Association issued a letter urging congress to include emergency federal funding for state departments of transportation and public transit agencies as part of the surface transportation extension—$37 billion and $32 billion, respectively.
Rail Passengers is working with Congress to ensure that Amtrak receives $5 billion as part of any emergency federal funding package, including protections for National Network service and Amtrak workers.
"Saving the Pennsylvanian (New York-Pittsburgh train) was a local effort but it was tremendously useful to have a national organization [NARP] to call upon for information and support. It was the combination of the local and national groups that made this happen."
Michael Alexander, NARP Council Member
April 6, 2013, at the Harrisburg PA membership meeting of NARP