Schumer's Obstruction Effort Proves Fruitless as DOT Nominee Is Confirmed

Dem leader blocked DOT nominee demanding billions for NY project, got nothing

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
November 14, 2017

A group of Democratic senators led by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) hoping to land billions of dollars in federal funding for a tunnel project by blocking Department of Transportation nominees until funding was promised were dealt a blow late Monday afternoon when the Senate overwhelmingly confirmed Derek Kan as under secretary for transportation policy.

Kan, a former Lyft executive, was nominated by President Trump for the DOT post in April, but Schumer has openly worked to stall the nomination because he has not been promised funding by the administration for the Gateway Program, a tunnel project between New York and New Jersey estimated to cost $29 billion.

Schumer's efforts were thwarted last Thursday when the Senate, by a margin of 87-9, voted to end debate on Kan's nomination and scheduled a confirmation vote for Monday.

Schumer was joined by only eight members of his caucus on the losing side of that vote, and by even less on the losing side of Monday's 90-7 confirmation vote for Kan.

Kan didn't receive a single vote in the affirmative on either vote from the senators representing New York or New Jersey, though Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) was unable to vote due to his ongoing fraud trial.

The nomination of Kan was not expected to be controversial—the well-respected transportation expert was confirmed unanimously by the Senate just two years ago when he was nominated by former President Barack Obama to join the Amtrak board of directors. Schumer, however, rallied support from his Democratic colleagues in the region behind his plan to block Kan's nomination and others at DOT until the Trump administration agreed to his demands on his Gateway project.

Schumer is asking for the federal government to cover half of the project's costs and offer loans to cover the rest of the cost.

Ahead of the confirmation vote, a spokesperson for the White House characterized Schumer's actions on the Kan nomination as "pointless obstruction."

Schumer's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday's vote.

Republicans have been critical of Schumer's open attempt to use the Senate nomination process to gain funding for the Gateway tunnel.

"It's high time the games and the politics that are being played with these nominations come to an end," said Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) on the Senate floor last week.

Thune pointed out how easily Kan was confirmed the last time his name was brought to the Senate and said Democrats were now holding the nomination "hostage."

"The only thing that has changed in the two years since Mr. Kan was previously confirmed is that some on the Democrat side have decided to hold this nomination hostage ... pending assurances that the Trump administration will approve and fund this multibillion-dollar Gateway project in New York and New Jersey," Thune said.

Thune added that he doesn't doubt the importance of the Gateway project, but that there are "other important projects" and "no project should get to cut the line based on the machinations of a handful of our Democrat colleagues."

Kan is not the only DOT nominee who was held up by Schumer—the department is still waiting for confirmation of Ronald Batory to run the Federal Railroad Administration and Adam Sullivan to be assistant secretary for government affairs.

A DOT spokesperson told the Washington Free Beacon the department was glad Kan received bipartisan support and predicted its other nominees would as well.

"The department welcomes Mr. Kan's overwhelming bipartisan Senate confirmation and looks forward to our other nominees having the same opportunity," said the spokesman.

Schumer and New York governor Andrew Cuomo (D.) were invited to the White House to discuss the Gateway project with Trump in September, but the administration has made no commitments to provide funding for it.

DOT has said it is reviewing the project and has been critical of efforts to deprive it of qualified officials who could be helpful in the review process "for reasons having nothing whatever to do with their merits."