Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) ended the Senate's legislative year blocking the Trump administration's pick to head the Federal Railroad Administration due to his demand that the federal government provide billions of dollars in funding for a major tunnel project between New York and New Jersey.
Ronald Batory, a widely respected former railroad executive with over four decades of experience in the industry, was approved unanimously for the FRA post by members of the Senate Commerce Committee in early August, but Schumer has blocked efforts to get the confirmation vote to the Senate floor.
The latest action by Schumer came late Thursday afternoon, when he objected to a motion by Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) for unanimous consent to have a vote on Batory's nomination.
There were rumblings that Schumer may drop his obstruction effort given his calls following Monday's fatal train derailment in Washington for the FRA—an agency created by the Department of Transportation to ensure railway safety—to push harder to implement Positive Train Control (PTC) technology.
Thune said he was "deeply frustrated" that a "non-controversial, highly qualified nominee has been languishing in the Senate for over four months due to objections by a handful of Democrats over a parochial issue entirely unrelated to the qualifications."
Thune criticized Schumer on the Senate floor for saying the agency isn't doing enough on PTC as he obstructs Batory's nomination.
"[Schumer] said that the Department of Transportation is not pushing federal PTC hard enough," Thune said. "Well, if you truly believe that DOT needs to do more, why is he, along with a few of his colleagues, standing in the way of Mr. Batory's nomination."
"When finally confirmed [Batory] will play a significant role in successful Positive Train Control implementation," he said.
"The time for playing political games with this agency should be over," Thune said just before Schumer blocked the nomination.
"I'm beyond words to explain why we are objecting to someone who is unanimously approved out of the committee to run an incredibly important safety agency," Thune said after the objection. "I hope this is the last time."
An administration official told the Washington Free Beacon in an email that Schumer was choosing to "prioritize politics over safety."
"Sadly, just days after a deadly derailment Sen. Schumer has yet again chosen to prioritize politics over safety," the official said.
Schumer similarly attempted to block other DOT nominees over his demands for federal funding for the costly Gateway Tunnel Project, but Republicans have slowly managed to push some through.
The administration has made no commitment to fund the Gateway project, calling a recent proposal by New York and New Jersey "entirely unserious."