Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hello? It's Dan Elliott for President Obama

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Hello? It's Dan Elliott for President Obama

News item: Surface Transportation Board (STB) Chairman Dan Elliott was forced to bid adieu Dec. 31, 2014, after the Senate failed to confirm his renomination. President Obama still could make a recess appointment prior to a Republican controlled Senate sworn-in Jan. 6.

Under the so-called Haig rule – named for President Reagan's Secretary of State and former Army general Alexander Haig, who told the White House press corps he had control of the situation and the nation following the March 30, 1981, shooting of the President —Deb Miller has been designated "acting chairman."

A telephone transcript was slipped to us today, purporting to be a phone call made Dec. 30 by Chairman Elliott to the White House, and a subsequent call to his cousin, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who was instrumental in Elliott's White House nomination to a first term in 2009.

The transcript begins with Elliott asking fellow board members Miller and Ann Begeman to listen quietly:

"Deb, Ann, please hush up while I dial the White House and try to learn what's going on here.

"Hello? The recording says 'press one for Spanish and two for English.' Maybe we should have a similar choice at the STB. What do you think?

"Jeez, another recording. It's Michelle. She wishes us a joyful New Year and says her husband's approval rating is up in the latest poll.

"Now I have a recording from the President. He reminds everyone to sign up for Obamacare.

"Hello? Hello? Ah, finally a live person. I'm calling from the Surface Transportation Board. The Surface Transportation ... No, no, I'm not wanting tour tickets to the White House.

"This is the Honorable Daniel R. Elliott. I am chairman of the United States Surface Transportation Board. I want to speak with the President.

"It's about my recess appointment.

"No, no. I don't want information on the school lunch program and exercises during recess. Yes, I know it's a Michelle priority. Please, this is the chairman of the United States Surface Transportation Board. It is urgent I speak with President Obama.

"I'm being transferred.

"Hello? I'm trying to reach the President about a serious situation at the Surface Transportation Board. This is the Honorable Daniel R. Elliott. I'm the chairman – well, at least right now I am.

"Yes, I know he is playing golf. Yes, I heard he shoots in the mid-80s. I broke 100 this summer.

(Muffled comment to fellow board members Miller and Begeman: "I think the President knows more about the couple whose marriage ceremony he interrupted with his golf game than he does the STB. At least he has their phone number.")

"Hello? Yes, I'm holding. Is there someone I might speak with about my recess appointment?

"Look, I don't want to be rude, but I'm facing unemployment tomorrow. I'm a Democrat, just like President Obama. This could affect the unemployment statistics and his approval ratings. We don't want to be giving fodder to Mitch McConnell and the Republicans, do we?

"No, no, I don't want to be transferred to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. I don't even have money for next week's rent. Yes, yes, I'll hold for the attorney general's office.

"Hello? Hello? Yes, this is the Honorable Daniel R. Elliott. I'm chairman of the United States Surface Transportation Board. May I speak with Attorney General Holder, please? He's what? He's occupied prosecuting police departments? Fine. But maybe one minute of his time? Yes. Yes. I'll hold for the assistant.

"Hello? This is the Honorable Daniel R. Elliott. I'm chairman of the United States Surface Transportation Board. No. It's part of the Department of Transportation. No. I don't report to Secretary Foxx. This is an independent agency ...

"Hello? Hello? Operator? I was cut off. Whatever. I'd rather think I was cut off.

"Look, I need to speak with someone about my recess appointment. I have a Senate designated 'Honorable' ahead of my name. I have rights and privileges. And my cousin is Sherrod Brown, the senior United States senator from the swing state of Ohio!

"Oh, for goodness sakes. They transferred me to Sherrod's office.

"Hi. It's Dan Elliott for my cousin, Sherrod. Yes, I know Senator Brown isn't in the office. I misplaced his cell phone number. I've left two dozen messages for him this month. I even included my telephone number on my Christmas card to him. He hasn't called me.

"Yes, I know he is busy. Just tell him it's his cousin, Dan. Dan! Dan Elliott. No, one person. Daniel R. Elliott, not Dan and a separate Elliott. Ha, ha. That's funny — at least it was in third grade.

"Please, this is important. Sherrod got me this job in 2009 and now I need his help again. I need to speak with Sherrod, now.

"What? Sherrod's playing golf with the President? In Hawaii? And with Sen. Rockefeller? What a revolting development this is."

(Phone slams.)

Frank N. Wilner, Contributing Editor

Frank N. Wilner is author of six books, including, Amtrak: Past, Present, Future; Understanding the Railway Labor Act; and, Railroad Mergers: History, Analysis, Insight. He earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in economics and labor relations from Virginia Tech. He has been assistant vice president, policy, for the Association of American Railroads; a White House appointed chief of staff at the Surface Transportation Board; and director of public relations for the United Transportation Union. He is a past president of the Association of Transportation Law Professionals. Wilner drafted the railroad section of the Heritage Foundation’s Mandate for Change (Volumes I and II), which were policy blueprints for the two Reagan Administrations; and was a guest columnist for the Cato Institute’s Regulation magazine.

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