A senior Department of Transportation official derided Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Wednesday for his refusal to confirm the nation’s top railroad safety regulator and suggested the partisan obstruction is placing rail passengers at risk.
Ronald Batory, a 40-year railroad industry veteran, was unanimously approved to lead the Federal Railway Administration by the Senate Commerce Committee in August, but Schumer has since blocked his confirmation twice, in an admitted effort to secure federal funding to revamp a rail tunnel linking New York and New Jersey.
Deputy Secretary of Transportation Jeff Rosen, who sent a letter to Schumer Jan. 31 urging him to confirm Batory, told The Daily Caller News Foundation Schumer’s behavior is unacceptable considering the scourge of recent rail accidents.
“He was unwilling to put safety first,” Rosen said of Schumer’s December objection to Batory’s confirmation, which occurred in the immediate aftermath of the tragic Washington State Amtrak derailment that resulted in three dead, 70 injured, and cost over $40 million in repairs.
“At that time, Sen. Thune, who chairs the Commerce committee, said months have gone by and now we’re dealing with the aftermath of this tragedy, it’s time to confirm Ron Batory, and he asked for unanimous consent,” Rosen recounted, and congressional records confirm. “Senator Schumer stood up and just said ‘I object’ and then he walked away and didn’t elaborate. So he didn’t say when he objected what the grounds were. It’s inexplicable that after those months and after the tragedy he was unwilling to put safety first but he didn’t give the rationale.”
The January Virginia crash was followed by another deadly crash in South Carolina just four days later, which claimed the lives of the train conductor and engineer. The train was heading south from New York to Miami — a fact Rosen suggested is relevant considering some number of Schumer’s constituents were likely aboard.
Rosen told TheDCNF that Schumer has not responded to his letter, which was sent after a train carrying senators collided with a car in Virginia, killing the driver. Schumer’s office did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment.
Schumer did, however, provide a rationale when speaking to the Wall Street Journal after first blocking Batory’s confirmation in August; he, along with the four New Jersey and New York Democrats who joined him in blocking the confirmation, did so out of concern that the federal government was unwilling to fund the construction of a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River.
Rosen argues the two issues are totally unrelated and should remain that way.
“That’s just all about who’s going to put up the money for some construction project in New York and New Jersey. That’s really completely unrelated and that’s a program of the federal transit administration, not the federal rail administration,” Rosen said of the so-called Gateway project, for which he claims Schumer has requested $30 million in funding — a figure that greatly exceeds that particular transit program’s budget of $2.2 million.
Asked how exactly Batory’s leadership would increase safety and reduce the number of rail accidents, Rosen cited a number of specific policy priorities before turning to the importance of leadership generally.
“Any organization that has a strong leader at the top benefits from the leadership. I don’t think anybody can point to any organization that doesn’t benefit from a knowledgeable expert leading the organization in a capable way,” Rosen said.
Democrats responded to Rosen’s Wednesday letter by arguing it is unfair to connect the rash of recent accidents to Batory’s confirmation delay because he is already providing his expertise as a full-time advisor.
“Than no one would ever need to be confirmed. He’s playing a different role as an advisor. He’s not able to make decisions, he’s not able to sign things, he’s not able to direct resources. He’s not able to fill that leadership role,” Rosen said of the Democratic lawmakers’ defense. “That’s like saying there’s a senior staff to the senator and if we didn’t have a senator from New York it would be fine because there’s senior staff there.”
Rosen said he was genuinely surprised that the string of recent accidents have not yet fostered a sense of urgency among Democratic leadership and said he is beginning to see the confirmation delay as part of a broader pattern of obstruction.
“Mr. Batory is one of 64 nominees who’s been filibustered by the Senate minority and that’s a new world record. That’s never happened in any prior administration so that makes me wonder is it really about the transit funding but whatever it is it’s just wrong,” Rosen said.
‘It’s both inexplicable and irresponsible,” he concluded.
A version of this article appeared on The Daily Caller News Foundation website.