Source: Trump endorsed 25-cent gas tax hike in White House confab

President Donald Trump signaled support for a 25-cent gas tax increase to help pay for infrastructure at a meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday, a source in the room told POLITICO.

Trump’s support, though not confirmed by the White House, represents a stark departure from recent administrations and congressional leaders that have tip-toed around the issue because raising the gas tax is considered politically dangerous.

It’s also a surprising turn from Trump, considering that most believed the best chance to hike the gas tax with the least amount of political pain was as part of the tax overhaul, H.R. 1 (115), whose ship has now sailed — and also because the splashy infrastructure plan the administration rolled out two days ago contained no mention of such a thing.

Trump told members he would lead on promoting a 25-cent hike to the federal levy, the source said. A second source familiar Continue reading “Source: Trump endorsed 25-cent gas tax hike in White House confab”

Rail safety agency finally gets a leader

The Senate on Tuesday evening confirmed Ron Batory, allowing him to take the post of head of the nation’s chief rail safety agency, following months of hold-ups from Senate Democrats while lethal rail accidents stacked up.

Batory now becomes the Federal Railroad Administration’s administrator.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other New York-area Democrats had held up Batory’s nomination over their frustrations with what they say is the Trump administration’s lukewarm attitude toward helping fund a multibillion-dollar effort to rebuild rail infrastructure in and around New York City.

The action comes days after POLITICO reported that former FRA official Heath Hall had apparently been serving as a spokesman for a Mississippi county sheriff while he was the acting administrator of the agency. Hall resigned over the weekend after POLITICO raised questions related to his work in Mississippi.

The chamber also approved the nominations of Adam Sullivan to be assistant secretary Continue reading “Rail safety agency finally gets a leader”

Railroad agency’s acting chief resigns amid questions about his employment

A top official charged with overseeing the safety of U.S. railroads has resigned "effective immediately," the Department of Transportation said Saturday after POLITICO raised questions about whether he had been simultaneously working as a public relations consultant for a sheriff’s department in Mississippi.

Heath Hall became the Federal Railroad Administration’s acting administrator in June but subsequently appeared on at least two occasions in Mississippi media reports as a spokesman for the Madison County sheriff, in a community where Hall has long run a public relations and political consulting firm. The firm continued to receive payments from the county for its services from July to December, despite his pledge in a federal ethics form that it would remain "dormant" while he worked at DOT.

A former FRA employee also told POLITICO this week that she had fielded at least three requests from a Mississippi TV journalist seeking to speak with Continue reading “Railroad agency’s acting chief resigns amid questions about his employment”

Trump’s $1 trillion plan inspires ‘Hunger Game’ angst

President Donald Trump won the White House promising a $1 trillion, 10-year blueprint to rebuild America — an initiative he said would create millions of jobs while making the nation’s highways, bridges, railroad and airports “second to none.”

But the infrastructure plan he’s poised to pitch in Tuesday’s State of the Union is already drawing comparisons to the “Hunger Games.

Instead of the grand, New Deal-style public works program that Trump’s eye-popping price tag implies, Democratic lawmakers and mayors fear the plan would set up a vicious, zero-sum scramble for a relatively meager amount of federal cash — while forcing cities and states to scrounge up more of their own money, bringing a surge of privately financed toll roads, and shredding regulations in the name of building projects faster.

The federal share of the decade-long program would be $200 billion, a sum Trump himself concedes is Continue reading “Trump’s $1 trillion plan inspires ‘Hunger Game’ angst”

Release of Trump infrastructure plan may slip past January

The White House may be pushing back the release of its long-awaited infrastructure package yet again, just a month after saying it would come out by the end of January.

A White House official said Tuesday that there have been “no decisions yet on timing” for the release. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) separately told POLITICO — after a meeting with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and other officials — that administration officials are still deciding whether to publish legislative principles for the plan before or after the president’s State of the Union address Jan. 30.

A White House spokeswoman did not immediately comment Tuesday.

It’s unclear whether this represents a major snag for the infrastructure plan, which Trump’s aides have talked up as a big priority for 2018. The plan — aimed at creating as much as $1 trillion in federal, state and private spending — could also be another Continue reading “Release of Trump infrastructure plan may slip past January”

Trump takes credit for airlines’ safety record

President Donald Trump on Tuesday appeared to claim that his policies in his first year in the White House resulted in the commercial aviation industry posting its safest year ever in 2017 — though the U.S. had gone years without a U.S. commercial airline fatality before he took office.

“Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “Good news – it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!”

Trump was referring to reports that 2017 marked the safest year in global commercial aviation ever, with no passenger jet fatalities recorded. But, as Reuters reported, there were fatalities in accidents involving turboprop airplanes and cargo aircraft.

Still, the U.S. has gone years without a U.S. commercial airline fatality. There has not been an accidental death on a domestic Continue reading “Trump takes credit for airlines’ safety record”

Senate confirms Bradbury after fight over ‘torture memos’

The Senate on Tuesday narrowly confirmed Steven Bradbury to join the Department of Transportation, with two Republicans voting with Democrats in opposition over Bradbury’s authorship of so-called torture memos during the George W. Bush administration.

The 50-47 vote came after an impassioned plea from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who joined Democrats in a push to derail Bradbury’s confirmation as the general counsel at DOT. McCain did change one mind, however, with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voting no after crossing the aisle to support Bradbury on a key procedural vote Monday.

Manchin said in an interview after the vote that he "would try to be supportive of any administration" on nominees and that Bradbury had impressed him during their meeting. But when McCain called him Tuesday to personally ask for a no vote, Manchin said, he changed course "because of John’s service to our country, my respect and Continue reading “Senate confirms Bradbury after fight over ‘torture memos’”

Trump’s air traffic overhaul faces bumpy skies

A House Republican plan to place the nation’s air traffic control system in private hands is closer than ever to becoming reality — but not even President Donald Trump’s outspoken support has cleared away all the obstacles.

A month after Trump offered his public support in a White House speech, the proposal to split up the Federal Aviation Administration still faces opposition from rural interests, small-plane owners and key Republicans in Congress, where the to-do list for returning lawmakers is piled high with big tasks like repealing Obamacare and rewriting the tax code.

One crucial lawmaker says he’s not even sure how strongly Trump supports the proposal, which would represent the most dramatic overhaul of U.S. aviation in a century.

“Well, you know, the president — it’s kind of funny because he hasn’t mentioned that to me, and I’m the one that he would mention it to, and I’ve Continue reading “Trump’s air traffic overhaul faces bumpy skies”

Trump’s infrastructure pitch adds to legislative pileup

Health care and tax reform legislation are on ice, Congress faces a time crunch to prepare a budget and avoid a debt crisis this summer, and the White House is under pressure from the Russia investigations. But President Donald Trump is trying to turn D.C.’s focus this week to two other mammoth pitches — privatizing air traffic control and promoting his $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

The problems: Capitol Hill aides say a broad infrastructure bill isn’t going anywhere any time soon either. And the proposed air-safety overhaul failed to even make it to the House floor when GOP lawmakers proposed it a year ago.

Continuing to toss ambitious proposals into an already-stuffed legislative calendar poses a danger for Trump: If he and Congress can’t regroup to focus on one priority at a time, they could end up seeing the president’s three biggest policy objectives — tax reform, health Continue reading “Trump’s infrastructure pitch adds to legislative pileup”

Trump pivots to infrastructure as he enters bruising week

The White House next week plans a full-throated infrastructure push, including unveiling more details on its vision for overhauling both the nation’s air traffic control system and federal permitting requirements for road projects.

The administration will spend several days rolling out at least some more details about priorities for its $1 trillion infrastructure plan and talking up the need for additional investment, during a week that’s otherwise expected to be full of loud and potentially damaging news about the FBI and Russia.

So far the administration has offered few details on its infrastructure proposals, aside from a six-page fact sheet it slipped into its 2018 budget proposal last month.

President Donald Trump will kick off the week Monday in the Oval Office by rolling out legislative principles encouraging Congress to split air traffic control away from the Federal Aviation Administration and place it under a private, non-governmental entity – a Continue reading “Trump pivots to infrastructure as he enters bruising week”

Trump slips infrastructure plan into budget

The Trump administration finally laid out its long-promised vision for a $1 trillion national infrastructure plan Tuesday — with nary a peep of fanfare and the president not even in the country to talk it up.

It arrived as a six-page fact sheet packaged with President Donald Trump’s $4.1 trillion proposed 2018 budget. As expected, it laid out a vision for $200 billion in direct federal spending over the next decade on needs such as roads, bridges, tunnels, railroads and expanded broadband, along with incentives for states, cities and private investors and efforts to reduce the burdens of regulations.

“The administration’s goal is to seek long-term reform on how infrastructure projects are regulated, funded, delivered and maintained,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told reporters Tuesday. She said the administration expects “to have more details forthcoming,” including a legislative package later this year, but described the concepts handed out Tuesday as Continue reading “Trump slips infrastructure plan into budget”

Congress to airlines: Police yourselves before we have to

Lawmakers in both parties lined up Tuesday to rail against airlines’ mistreatment of customers, from their raft of confusing fees to last month’s violent removal of a passenger from an overbooked United Airlines flight.

But Republicans made it clear that Congress isn’t eager to force changes on the industry, a powerful lobbying force that has racked up a series of wins in Washington in recent years. The industry is also pushing hard for lawmakers and the Trump administration to give them a major prize — an overhaul of the nation’s air traffic control system that would give them more control over how it operates.

Rather than push for new regulations, at least for now, House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said he expects the industry to clean up its act so Congress doesn’t have to step in.

“Seize this opportunity,” he admonished United CEO Oscar Munoz and executives from Continue reading “Congress to airlines: Police yourselves before we have to”

United’s Munoz starts his airline’s congressional apology tour

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz apologized again Tuesday for the way his airline treated a passenger left bloodied and dazed after law enforcement dragged him off a flight last month for refusing to give up his seat.

“I am personally sorry that my immediate response, and the response of our airline, was inadequate in that moment,” he said before the House Transportation Committee’s hearing on airline customer service. “No customer or individual should ever be treated the way Mr. Dao was — ever.”

Munoz also apologized again to David Dao, the passenger forcibly bumped from the United flight, his family and the customers who witnessed the incident.

His apology came after members on the committee warned that they are listening to constituents’ concerns about airline mistreatment, which adds a layer of unpleasantness on top of an already stressful task.

Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who has been romantically Continue reading “United’s Munoz starts his airline’s congressional apology tour”

Plane mutiny unlikely to clip United’s wings

The dragging of a battered, bloodied physician off a United Airlines flight “disturbed” the White House, provoked outrage from political leaders in both parties and turned one of the world’s biggest air carriers into a social media pariah as far away as China — while wiping out a quarter-billion dollars of the company’s market value Tuesday.

But don’t expect it to wreak much damage on the clout that United and other U.S. airlines wield in Washington, even as Sunday’s incident appeared to crystallize years of travelers’ discontent with cramped seats, luggage restrictions and bewildering fees.

The White House and the Department of Transportation have offered only muted reactions to Sunday’s incident, in contrast to the anger at United churning through Facebook, Twitter and several statements from Capitol Hill. United CEO Oscar Munoz and other airline executives have also literally had a seat at the table with President Donald Trump, Continue reading “Plane mutiny unlikely to clip United’s wings”

Why Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan could wind up in a ditch

President Donald Trump is counting on his $1 trillion infrastructure proposal to produce the kind of bipartisan legislative victory that has eluded him on health care and pretty much everything else.

Instead, he’s running into familiar roadblocks: suspicious Democrats, a divided GOP and questions about the math.

Trump’s plan, expected to be released as early as May, has already faced months of skepticism from some conservative deficit hawks — even though it’s likely to call for far less direct federal spending than its eye-popping price tag implies. Meanwhile, Democrats are crying foul at suggestions that the blueprint will include hefty tax breaks for private investors and a shredding of permit requirements.

And even if the plan entails just a few hundred billion dollars in direct federal spending on roads, bridges, tunnels, railroads and airport upgrades — as most leaks to date indicate — no easy answers exist on where Congress Continue reading “Why Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan could wind up in a ditch”

TSA orders electronic carry-on limits on some Middle Eastern flights

TSA is issuing an emergency order today directing nine airlines that fly directly to the United States from 10 Middle Eastern airports to require passengers to transport electronic devices larger than cellphones in their checked luggage.

The directive stems from “evaluated intelligence” showing that terrorists continue to plot attacks against commercial aviation targets by smuggling explosives on board in “various consumer items,” an administration official told reporters. It covers laptops, tablets, e-readers and other electronics larger than a cellphone, another official said.

An official declined to comment on whether the intelligence that spurred the action was recently obtained.

Officials said the move is an “airport-specific action,” though TSA is working with the airlines and the State Department began reaching out to the eight affected countries over the weekend to ensure they understood the coming requirements.

The affected airlines are: Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Continue reading “TSA orders electronic carry-on limits on some Middle Eastern flights”

Trump slams ‘out of whack’ FAA in meeting with airlines

President Donald Trump slammed the Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday and suggested its multibillion-dollar air traffic upgrade is "totally out of whack" — remarks that come amid a debate in Congress on whether to split up the agency and give airlines a role in running the system.

He also suggested that a pilot should be put in charge of the FAA, in an apparent dig at Administrator Michael Huerta — adding that "I have a pilot who’s a real expert.”

Trump used a meeting in the White House with airline and airport executives to ding FAA’s multibillion-dollar NextGen program, which has been plagued with cost overruns and delays, and asked executives from United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines why they had let the government pour money into a faulty system. Southwest’s representative told him the airlines don’t control those decisions.

"I hear we’re spending billions and billions Continue reading “Trump slams ‘out of whack’ FAA in meeting with airlines”

Senate endorses Elaine Chao for Transportation Department

The Senate Tuesday handily approved Elaine Chao to be the next secretary of Transportation, despite a handful of Democratic no votes amid unrest about President Donald Trump’s executive orders.

What would likely have been a unanimous vote in her favor before President Trump’s controversial travel ban ended up with six Democrats voting against her: Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Cory Booker (N.J.) — and, most notably, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.). Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — Chao’s spouse — voted “present.”

On Monday, Schumer had tweeted that he would vote no on “everybody” — “DeVos – No Tillerson – No Sessions – No Mulvaney – No Price – No Mnuchin – No Pruitt – No Puzder – No.” Chao wasn’t named specifically. He also tweeted that day, “I’ll vote NO on noms Continue reading “Senate endorses Elaine Chao for Transportation Department”

Sources: DOT declares social media halt three days after Interior blackout

The Department of Transportation has become the second federal agency to declare a social media moratorium since the dawn of Donald Trump’s presidency.

DOT has barred its employees from issuing news releases or posting to any of its social media accounts, a department source confirmed to POLITICO on Monday. The action came just three days after the Interior Department ordered a temporary halt to all of its Twitter activity, following two retweets from the National Park Service that appeared to contain digs at Trump.

DOT’s move was not a response to any controversial postings, but came after a career employee recommended that employees hold off on using the department’s social media accounts until more guidance comes down from the new administration, another source told POLITICO.

However, the moratorium came as critics of the new, Twitter-enthusiast president were eagerly looking for possible anti-Trump subtext in tweets from federal agencies. Earlier Monday, Continue reading “Sources: DOT declares social media halt three days after Interior blackout”

Republicans embrace Amtrak’s Gulf Coast rebirth

MOBILE, Ala. — A decade after Hurricane Katrina wiped out a long stretch of Amtrak’s transcontinental passenger route in the Deep South, the railroad is plotting to bring it back. And it’s attracted a seemingly unlikely group of cheerleaders: red-state Republicans.

For Amtrak, extending the City of New Orleans line from Louisiana to Orlando, Fla., is a chance to demonstrate that its traditionally money-losing long-distance routes deserve Congress’ investment. It could also mark a shift in some Republicans’ attitudes toward Amtrak, after decades of GOP leaders in Washington trying to slash the passenger rail’s funding and force it to dump unprofitable routes.

Now local and state Republican leaders along the Gulf Coast are promoting a revived Amtrak route as a tool for commerce and jobs. That argument mirrors the pro-transportation message of President-elect Donald Trump, who is proposing a nationwide $1 trillion infrastructure upgrade that he says would make Continue reading “Republicans embrace Amtrak’s Gulf Coast rebirth”