Senate confirms Trump's railroad nominee

Senate confirms Trump's railroad nominee
© Greg Nash

After months of holdup, the Senate on Tuesday confirmed the nomination of Ronald Batory to serve as the federal railroad administrator, a move that follows several deadly train crashes in recent weeks.

The upper chamber confirmed by voice vote Batory’s nomination, in addition to that of Adam Sullivan for assistant secretary of governmental affairs.

“Even as his confirmation languished, consensus that Ronald Batory was highly qualified to serve as administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration never waned. His confirmation is a win for railroad safety and I expect him to have an impact,” Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGoogle says it continues to allow apps to access Gmail user data Fight looms over national privacy law Want to improve health care? Get Americans off of their couches MORE (R-S.D.) said in a statement.

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Batory’s confirmation had been stalled in the upper chamber since August, when the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved Trump’s pick.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao previously accused Democratic senators from New Jersey and New York of holding Batory’s nomination over the Trump administration’s stance on a multibillion-dollar rail project known as the Gateway Program. 

The program is aimed at reconstructing passenger rail connections under the Hudson River between New York City and Newark, N.J., an initiative the Trump administration has backed away from in recent months.

The Department of Transportation withdrew from the program’s board last summer, while the Federal Transit Administration in a December letter denied the presence of an agreement that says the federal government would split the cost of the project with New Jersey and New York.

The Trump administration, following recent deadly train accidents, pressured Senate Democrats to move on Batory’s nomination, referencing the deadly Amtrak incidents.

Deputy Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Rosen in a letter to Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump slams Sessions in exclusive Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh accuser wants FBI investigation MORE (D-N.Y.) earlier this month argued the federal agency must have its top official in place to investigate the train that crashed in Virginia while carrying GOP lawmakers to their annual retreat.

“While the circumstances of that crash are being received by the Federal Railroad Administration, it is clear that the agency needs to have its chief rail safety official in place,” Rosen wrote.

After another train crash killed two Amtrak employees in South Carolina that weekend, White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah slammed Schumer over Batory’s nomination.

“We call on Senate Democrats, from Senator Schumer to Senator Brown — whose state we're visiting today — to tell their leadership that it's well past time to stop putting politics before public safety, and to the bring the President's eminently qualified nomination up for a vote,” Shah told reporters on Feb. 5.

Heath Hall, the acting head of the Federal Railroad Administration, resigned over the weekend after Politico questioned the Transportation Department about Hall possibly doing consulting work in Mississippi while also heading the federal agency.