Senate Advances Amtrak, STB Nominees

Written by Frank N. Wilner, Capitol Hill Contributing Editor

Five Presidential nominees to the Amtrak Board of Directors—one a renomination—and one re-nominee to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) were recommended for Senate confirmation Dec. 7 by the Senate Commerce Committee meeting in Executive Session.

All six are Democrats—Robert M. Primus seeking a second STB term, and Amtrak Board nominees Anthony R. Coscia, David M. Capozzi, Christopher Koos, Rev. Samuel E. Lathem and Robin L. Wiessmann.

Whether the entire Senate holds a confirmation vote on the six prior to adjournment is “iffy” owing to limited floor time and a tradition of pairing each Democratic (or Republican) candidate with a Republican (or Democrat) for purposes of confirmation. None, however, appears in danger of rejection when that Senate floor vote does occur. Any nominees not Senate-confirmed before adjournment are expected to be renominated by President Biden after the 118th Congress convenes in January.

Amtrak Board nominees now awaiting a Senate floor vote are:

  • Coscia, Amtrak Board chairperson since 2013 and a former chairperson of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, seeks a new five-year term expiring in 2025. His previous term expired in 2020, but Amtrak’s enabling statute allows Board members to continue serving until they or a successor is Senate-confirmed. 
  • Capozzi, executive director of the U.S. Access Board, which promotes opportunities for those with disabilities, would fill a long-standing vacancy with his term expiring five years from being sworn-in.
  • Koos, mayor of Normal, Ill., and the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ vice chair for Passenger Rail, would succeed Democrat Thomas C Carper, whose term expired in 2018.
  • Lathem, former president of the Delaware AFL-CIO and member of the Delaware River and Bay Authority, would succeed Democrat Albert DiClemente, whose term expired in 2017.
  • Wiessmann, CEO of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and a former Pennsylvania state treasurer with a background in investment banking, would succeed Democrat Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, whose term expired in 2018.

Other Amtrak Board members are Republicans Christopher Beall, holding a seat that expired in 2018, and Jeffrey R. Moreland, holding a seat that expired in 2015. There are two ex officio members—Amtrak CEO Stephen J. Gardner, whose seat is non-voting, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

There is one Amtrak Board vacancy—a seat formerly held by Republican Derek Kan until 2019 when he departed to join the Trump Administration. It must be filled by a Republican nominee, as the Amtrak enabling statute limits the eight Senate-confirmed Board seats to no more than five from the same political party. The five nominees awaiting confirmation are Democrats.

As for the STB, its statute allows Senate-confirmed members to remain in office a maximum of 12 months following expiration of their term, meaning Primus, whose first term expires Dec. 31, need not depart if not confirmed to a second five-year term this year. It is anticipated President Biden would renominate him if not.

Primus, whose open-door policy has allowed shippers and union leaders to meet with him frequently, has broad support in both communities, each praising his independent thinking and celebrating his willingness to confront, at public hearings, rail CEOs on issues of rail service and employment levels.

Significantly, Primus, age 53, is rumored Biden’s choice for STB chairperson should current Democratic Chairperson Martin J. Oberman, whose first term expires Dec. 31, 2023, when he will be 78, choose to depart. The other Democratic STB member is Karen J. Hedlund, who will be age 75 in 2023. Her first term expires Dec. 31, 2025. The first term of Republican Patrick J. Fuchs, now age 34, expires Jan. 12, 2024, and that of Republican Michelle A. Schultz, now age 50, on Jan. 11, 2026.

Railway Age Capitol Hill Contributing Editor Frank N. Wilner is author of Amtrak: Past, Present, Future, published by Simmons-Boardman Books. 

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