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Infrastructure in the News 11.30.16

BAF IN THE NEWS

 

New York Times: Trump Picks Elaine Chao for Transportation Secretary (Sec. LaHood is quoted)

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/29/us/politics/elaine-chao-transportation-trump.html?_r=0

She is a woman and an immigrant, a fixture of the Republican establishment for two decades. She is a savvy and professional practitioner of the capital’s inside game.

 

Trucks.com: Trucking, Auto Industries Praise Elaine Chao Transportation Secretary Nomination (Marcia Hale is quoted)

https://www.trucks.com/2016/11/29/trucking-industry-praises-elaine-chao-us-dot-choice/

President-elect Donald Trump nominated Elaine L. Chao, a well-connected Republican and former official in two Bush administrations, to be his transportation secretary on Tuesday.

 

NATIONAL NEWS

 

Washington Post: Elaine Chao will face many challenges as Trump’s transportation secretary, including Metro

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2016/11/30/elaine-chao-will-face-many-challenges-as-trumps-transportation-secretary-including-what-to-do-about-metro/?utm_term=.14ea5b162011

As President-elect Trump’s pick for transportation secretary, Elaine Chao will face challenges on multiple fronts, including how to regulate self-driving cars, how to deal with growing numbers of vehicle recalls and how to modernize the nation’s air traffic control system. But her most high profile role in the new administration could be in helping rebuild the nation’s infrastructure if Trump follows through on his promise to invest $1 trillion in bridges, roads and airports.

 

Associated Press: Elaine Chao’s record suggests skepticism on new safety regs

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/elaine-chaos-record-suggests-skepticism-on-new-safety-regs/2016/11/30/d9828ef6-b6d4-11e6-939c-91749443c5e5_story.html?utm_term=.2091923d4292

Elaine Chao’s record as secretary of labor suggests she’d have a light hand when it comes to safety regulation as head of the Transportation Department and would seek to shift responsibility from the federal government to states where possible.

 

Washington Post: Trump promised $1 trillion for roads and bridges. The trick now is finding the cash.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/trump-promised-1-trillion-for-roads-and-bridges-the-trick-now-is-finding-the-cash/2016/11/29/572da120-b323-11e6-8616-52b15787add0_story.html?utm_term=.989d11e2b615

President-elect Donald Trump’s promise to spend $1 trillion on America’s worn-out infrastructure has been embraced by advocates who hope it was more than campaign rhetoric, but there is little consensus on the long-standing question of where the cash will come from.

 

Forbes: Automated Car Advocates Welcome Chao As Trump's Pick For Transportation

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alanohnsman/2016/11/29/automated-car-advocates-welcome-chao-as-trumps-pick-for-transportation/#40bad3507055

News that Elaine Chao, a former U.S. Labor Secretary and wife of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has been selected as the next Transportation Secretary appears to be a welcome development for the companies backing technology to automate cars and trucks.

 

NPR: Trump Picks Washington Insider Elaine Chao For Transportation Secretary

http://www.npr.org/2016/11/29/503728674/trump-taps-elaine-chao-for-transportation-secretary

President-elect Donald Trump ran an insurgent, anti-establishment campaign, but the latest addition to his prospective Cabinet is about as establishment as it gets.

 

Forbes: Is Trump Infrastructure Smart?

http://www.forbes.com/sites/richkarlgaard/2016/11/30/is-trump-infrastructure-smart/#6a0c71e17e75

PLAYERS AND FANS were still on the field when bulldozers came down the ramp to begin their destruction. It was November 26, 2005. The home team, Stanford University, had just lost to Notre Dame, 38–31. But the Stanford fans were happy: A one-win Cardinal team had nearly upset the ranked Fighting Irish, and a new stadium was in the works.

 

Bloomberg: Give Trump's Infrastructure Plans a Chance

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-11-30/give-trump-s-infrastructure-plans-a-chance

Donald Trump’s plans for infrastructure spending are finally materializing, and they already have no shortage of critics. But I think the critics should ease up, and give the president-elect a chance.

 

NPR KUAR: Construction Group Pushes For $1 Trillion Infrastructure Program Under Trump

http://ualrpublicradio.org/post/construction-group-pushes-1-trillion-infrastructure-program-under-trump#stream/0

Officials with the Associated General Contractors of America visited central Arkansas Tuesday to push for a federal civil works program under President-elect Donald Trump that would invest over a trillion dollars in the nation’s aging infrastructure and bring more construction jobs to the Arkansas economy.

 

The Hill: Let's build infrastructure for the future, not just today

http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/transportation/307962-lets-build-infrastructure-for-the-future-not-just-today

What goals are appropriate to government and what decisions should be left to the private sector? This bedrock question underlies most disputes in modern American politics, even when the issue is framed in scientific, economic or moral terms.

 

CNBC: Why transportation networks are especially vulnerable to ransomware

http://www.cnbc.com/2016/11/29/why-transportation-networks-are-especially-vulnerable-to-ransomware.html

Workers in the transportation sector are among the most vulnerable to phishing emails and the ransomware attack on San Francisco's light rail system over the Thanksgiving weekend showed the impact cybercriminals can have on municipal transportation systems.

Electronic Design: What Exactly is a Smart City?

http://electronicdesign.com/iot/what-exactly-smart-city

The goal of smart cities is to improve the quality of life for its citizens through technological means, ultimately creating more sustainable cities. It is a team effort that requires many sectors of a society to safely and strategically integrate technology, information, and data solutions.

 

STATE NEWS

 

Reuters: 'America's Subway' in Washington Highlights Infrastructure Woes

http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2016/11/30/us/30reuters-districtofcolumbia-metro.html

Hailed as "America's Subway" when it began operating 40 years ago, Washington's Metro transit system now could serve as Exhibit A for the U.S infrastructure woes President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to fix.

 

Washington Post: After SafeTrack, Metro to shift focus to railcars — the biggest cause of delays

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/after-safetrack-metro-to-shift-focus-to-railcars--the-biggest-cause-of-delays/2016/11/30/e1f4c574-b669-11e6-a677-b608fbb3aaf6_story.html?utm_term=.11ff0be26aea

In a speech marking his first anniversary with the agency Wednesday, Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld will introduce a post-SafeTrack agenda shifting the emphasis from track infrastructure to railcars, the source of a majority of the system’s delays.

 

Grist: The NYC traffic guru who coined the term “gridlock” has a plan to fix it

http://grist.org/cities/the-nyc-traffic-guru-who-coined-the-term-gridlock-has-a-plan-to-fix-it/

If you’ve tried to drive in Manhattan during rush hour, you know better than to try again. Every year, according to the business advocacy group Partnership for New York City, the cost of congestion as measured in diminished public health and wasted time reaches into the billions of dollars.

 

WITN (North Carolina): Greenville officials break ground on new transportation facility

http://www.witn.com/content/news/Greenville-officials-break-ground-on-new-transportation-facility-403681486.html

One city in the east is trying to make getting around town a little easier in the future. City of Greenville officials broke ground for a new transfer facility Tuesday afternoon and they say construction for the GTAC, or the Greenville Transportation Activity Center, is going to start in December.

 

SFGate: Gov. Baker heading to DC to discuss transportation, military

http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Gov-Baker-heading-to-DC-to-discuss-10643377.php

Gov. Charlie Baker is heading to Washington, D.C. to discuss transportation and military issues. On Wednesday morning the Republican governor will meet with Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff to the United States Army, at the Pentagon to discuss the progress of the Massachusetts Military Task Force.

 

Virginian-Pilot: MLK Freeway extension in Portsmouth opens Wednesday, a month early

http://pilotonline.com/news/local/transportation/mlk-expressway-opens-tomorrow-a-month-early/article_ee485bb2-f6e1-51dc-9af0-c0fae1930030.html

The Martin Luther King Freeway Extension, a new elevated roadway that connects the Midtown and Downtown tunnels, will open today.

Politico Morning Transportation - By Brianna Gurciullo | 11/30/2016 05:40 AM EDT

With help from Kathryn A. Wolfe, Lauren Gardner, Jennifer Scholtes, Tanya Snyder and Anthony Adragna

TRUMP GOES WITH EXPERIENCED, CONNECTED CHAO: President-elect Donald Trump's decision to nominate Elaine Chao as Transportation secretary means an insider who already boasts experience running an executive department is on track to take the helm at DOT while the administration negotiates a large-scale infrastructure proposal with Congress. Just some of the titles on Chao's résumé include Labor secretary, deputy Transportation secretary, Federal Maritime Commission chairwoman and MARAD deputy administrator.

'Conservative' and 'pragmatic': "She's fairly ideological — she's pretty conservative — but this is not an ideological pick, this is a pragmatic, get-it-done kind of pick. She gets s — - done," one industry source who has worked with Chao told us, adding that "she knows the issues and she has strong management experience, and she's connected as all get out." One of the most important connections she has is to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, her husband.

Her transpo record: As deputy secretary of Transportation for one year during the George H.W. Bush administration, Chao played a role in assessing the needs of the U.S. transportation system through 2050 and developing ISTEA, a highway and transit bill that hiked the gas tax by 0.5 cents per gallon and brought transit under the purview of the Highway Trust Fund.

Flak from worker groups: Generally, trade groups representing the interests of the transportation world and lawmakers sitting on committees with jurisdiction over transportation greeted the Tuesday announcement with praise. Her confirmation is unlikely to hit any snags in the Senate. But transportation unions may not be so happy with the pick. Chao was criticized as Labor secretary for how George W. Bush's administration dealt with a labor dispute in 2002, when dozens of ports on the West Coast shut down. In 2005, a union for flight attendants filed a complaint against Chao and then-FAA Administrator Marion Blakey for allegedly failing to "ensure the health and safety of flight attendants." That case was dismissed.

IT'S WEDNESDAY: Welcome to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, where we'd like to express our thanks to all the trade associations and congressional offices that sent their reactions to Trump's selection of Chao. Unfortunately, there was just no way we could fit all your statements in today's newsletter!

But don't let that stop you from sending tips, feedback and, of course, song lyrics to bgurciullo@politico.com or @brigurciullo.

"The sea was so violent. The crew went below. They begged him to join them. But he would not go. Oh, sail a little, little. For just a little, little. Oh, sail for a little. 'Til she finds him."

Want to keep up with MT's song picks? Follow our Spotify playlist.

MORE ABOUT CHAO'S TENURE AS LABOR SECRETARY: Chao served as the head of DOL for eight years. During that time, "she drew fire from labor unions and liberals for doing too little to enforce existing laws on wages, overtime and workplace safety. And federal employees threw a 'good riddance' party when she left," POLITICO's Seung Min Kim, Anna Palmer and Andrew Restuccia report . "And she increased financial disclosure requirements for unions, touting the rules as a win for workers who she said were harmed by corrupt union officials. Her most significant accomplishment was a 2004 update to the rules governing overtime." Pro's Transition 2017 has more.

FUN FACTS: According to Jeff Davis (@JDwithTW) at the Eno Center for Transportation: "This is the earliest a Pres-Elect has named a SecDOT in at least 40 yrs - 12/14/76, 12/11/80, 12/22/88, 12/24/92, 1/2/01, 12/19/08."

Alex Burns (@alexburnsNYT) of The New York Times points out: "Elaine Chao will, amazingly, be the SECOND person to have been Sec of Labor, Sec of Transportation and married to Senate majority leader." (Elizabeth Dole was the first.)

McCONNELL WON'T RECUSE HIMSELF: McConnell said before Trump's official announcement that he wouldn't recuse himself from a vote on Chao's confirmation. After the decision became public, McConnell said in a statement: "I am so proud of Elaine as she continues her accomplished career in public service. I am confident she will do an outstanding job for the nation in this new and important role."

WHAT DOES THE FOXX SAY? Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement: "Elaine Chao knows the Department of Transportation well, having previously served as its deputy secretary. She's also one of the nicest people I've met in Washington. I wish her luck in the confirmation process, and in the meantime, we will be working hard to ensure a smooth transition."

SCHUMER HOPES CHAO WILL WORK WITH DEMS: Chuck Schumer, the incoming Senate minority leader, reiterated in a statement about Chao that members of his party want to work with the new administration on infrastructure legislation — as long as Trump's proposal includes federal spending and doesn't take away money from social programs. "Senate Democrats have said that if President-elect Trump is serious about a major infrastructure bill, backed by real dollars and not just tax credits and without cutting other programs like health care and education, that we are ready to work with his administration," Schumer said. "I hope Secretary Chao shares that ambitious goal and is willing to work with Democrats to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and create millions of good paying jobs along the way."

Remember that litmus test? Before the election, Schumer said "the next Secretary of Transportation won't get confirmed unless they're as enthusiastic about" the Gateway program's Hudson Tunnel Project as Foxx. In a statement to Emma Fitzsimmons of The New York Times on Tuesday, Schumer said he hopes Chao "will pick up where Secretary Foxx left off and make the timely completion of this project a top priority."

MAKE METRO GREAT AGAIN? Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said in a statement that Chao's priority should be the system that brings workers to DOT headquarters. "The challenge facing the new Transportation secretary from Day One will be to increase federal support for Metrorail and resolve long-running questions about the ability of the FTA to provide robust safety oversight of our nation's transit system," Connolly said. "The federal government can no longer be a deadbeat when it comes to operating funds for Metrorail, and I look forward to working with the new Transportation secretary to secure appropriate federal support for the very transit system that delivers many DOT employees to work each day."

SHUSTER HOPES TO CHAT WITH CHAO TODAY: House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster told Lauren that he hopes to speak with Chao about her policy positions and priorities today. He said he had wanted Trump to pick "somebody who's politically savvy, who knows how to come to the Hill and work the Hill and make sure that, you know, you got to pass the House and pass the Senate if you want anything done."

Oh, and about that ATC overhaul: Shuster is likely to re-up his efforts to separate air traffic control from the FAA during the next Congress. He told Lauren on Tuesday that he talked to Trump for the first time two years ago in New York. "And I explained what I was doing and he said that he was very positive, and I feel the same way about it going into a transition team," Shuster said. "It's something they're looking at closely, but there's no final decisions made. But again I feel pretty good about it."

INHOFE WANTED THE JOB: One industry lobbyist told MT that Senate EPW Chairman Jim Inhofe was angling for the secretary nod as recently as the weekend, though it's unclear whether Trump's team actively considered him for the post. But the infrastructure booster wasn't short on praise for Chao, gushing about her to Lauren before the official announcement Tuesday. "I just love the gal. I mean, she's such a delight to be around," he said, adding that "she also understands what we're going to have to do with infrastructure. There couldn't be a better choice."

ROSS LOOKS TO BE COMMERCE SECRETARY PICK: Trump is expected today to choose one of the authors of his infrastructure plan , Wilbur Ross, as his Commerce secretary. "Ross, the 78-year-old founder of the private equity firm WL Ross & Co., has been a leading economic adviser to Trump during the campaign, and he is known for restructuring failed companies in distressed sectors like steel, textile and coal," Pro Trade's Adam Behsudi reports. "But he also drew criticism for his handling of safety lapses after a 2006 explosion killed a dozen workers at a coal mine one of his companies had acquired in Sago, W.Va." Read Adam's full story here.

AND MNUCHIN IS LIKELY TO GET TREASURY NOMINATION: Steven Mnuchin, a Goldman Sachs veteran, is expected to nab the nomination for Treasury secretary. "Treasury will likely play a major role in helping to design and push through Congress an overhaul of both the corporate and individual tax code as well as implementing what could be a very large infrastructure spending plan," Pro's Victoria Guida and Ben White report. Earlier this month, Mnuchin said the transition team was "looking at the creation of an infrastructure bank to fund infrastructure investments."

BARLETTA IN THE RUNNING FOR LABOR SECRETARY: Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), who was being considered for Transportation secretary, now seems to be under consideration for Labor secretary. Barletta is a member of the House Transportation, Homeland Security and Education and the Workforce committees. Pro Labor and Employment's Marianne LeVine has more on his labor positions.

UPDATE ON THE CR: Republicans in Congress may try to push through a continuing resolution that funds the government through May, POLITICO's Rachael Bade and John Bresnahan report. Legislation that funded the government through March was originally expected. Rachael and Bres report that "Senate Republicans, under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are worried that the workload required to confirm Trump's Cabinet nominations will bleed into the spending debate. They want more time to finish nominations before turning their attention to the fiscal fight and have been pushing for a CR through May instead."

WRDA ALMOST DONE: Congress is racing to finish a major water infrastructure bill and send promised aid to Flint, Mich., and other communities facing drinking water problems — and all sides are optimistic a deal will come together this week. While final details must still be worked out, it sounds like the drinking water package will land at a lower price tag favored by the House ($170 million, compared to $220 million in the Senate).

But it is expected to use the funding mechanism from the Senate's version of the Water Resources Development Act, which would send $100 million directly to Flint, $70 million to other communities and spread the rest across lead programs at EPA — much of which also would benefit the beleaguered Michigan city, whose residents have been dealing with tainted water for years. "That could end up being the way it plays out, and we're right now just literally waiting for the language to kind of go through it with a fine-tooth comb to make sure we get it right," Rep. Dan Kildee, whose district includes Flint, told Morning Energy on Tuesday night.

ICYMI: Pro Energy's Nick Juliano had the state of play on the Senate side of the Capitol earlier Tuesday. "If we feel it helps the people of Flint, this is a go, and if it doesn't help the people of Flint, we can't do it," Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member Barbara Boxer told him.

STATE OF THE STATES REGULATING DRIVERLESS CARS: MASSACHUSETTS: Our Tanya Snyder chatted with Katherine Fichter, MassDOT's assistant secretary of policy coordination, for the third installment in our Q&A series with state officials facing the challenges of regulating self-driving car technology. Tanya asked why Gov. Charlie Baker decided to issue an executive order on the issue rather than introduce legislation or regulations. Fichter responded: "The field is so fluid and is evolving so quickly that an executive order gives us more flexibility. And one of the things called for in the executive order is for a working group to contemplate whether legislation or regulation would be appropriate. We see that as a potential next step." Pros can check out the full Q&A here.

SHIFTING GEARS: Linda Ford will step down as associate administrator of FTA's Office of Civil Rights to serve as the American Public Transportation Association's chief counsel, beginning Jan. 9. Ford previously worked in DOT's Office of General Counsel and FTA's Office of Chief Counsel.

Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University and former governor of Indiana, and Marcela Donadio, a director at Ernst & Young, were elected to Norfolk Southern's board of directors.

THE AUTOBAHN:

— "Elaine Chao's record suggests skepticism on new safety regs." The Associated Press.

— "Becerra vies for Ways and Means post as Levin steps aside." POLITICO.

— "Hunt begins for cause of crash that wipes out Brazilian team." The Associated Press.

— "Airbus to slash more than 1,100 jobs in cost-cutting drive." The Wall Street Journal.

— "U.S. judge delays court hearing on Volkswagen 3.0-liter diesels." Reuters.

— "Uber befuddles judges of Europe's highest court." POLITICO Europe.

— "Intel to team with Delphi and Mobileye for self-driving cars." The New York Times.

— "New UPS CIO envisions 'autonomous everything.'" The Wall Street Journal.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 9 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 303 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,403 days.

THE DAY AHEAD:

8 a.m. — The Greater Washington Board of Trade holds its Annual Regional Forum on Transportation. Speakers include Leif Dormsjo, director of DDOT; Aubrey Layne Jr., Virginia's secretary of transportation; Pete Rahn, Maryland's secretary of transportation; and Paul Wiedefeld, WMATA's general manager. Key Bridge Marriott. Capital View Ballroom. 1401 Lee Highway. Arlington, Va.

8:30 a.m. — APTA holds a "High-Speed Rail Policy Forum" as a part of its December committee meetings. 1300 I St. NW. 11th floor east, conference rooms 1 to 4.

10 a.m. — The International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association holds a "Transportation Visioning Summit" featuring "leaders of 18 national transportation associations to explore the key challenges and opportunities confronting the transportation system in the next 30 years."

10 a.m. — House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson participate in a discussion on Congress' oversight of DHS. Bipartisan Policy Center. 1225 I ST. NW. Suite 1000.

12:30 p.m. — The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility and Shaquille O'Neal hold a briefing called "Drug-Impaired Driving: The Challenges Facing Law Enforcement." Hart Senate Office Building. Room 902.

12:30 p.m. — The National Press Club holds a luncheon with Wiedefeld. 529 14th St. NW. 13th floor. Holeman Lounge.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at transpocalendar@politicopro.com.

To view online:
https://www.politicopro.com/tipsheets/morning-transportation/2016/11/trump-picks-experienced-connected-chao-for-dot-secretary-020335

Stories from POLITICO Pro

Chao will bring to DOT insider knowledge, 'get it done' ethos Back

By Kathryn A. Wolfe and Brianna Gurciullo | 11/29/2016 05:12 PM EDT

Transportation interests are breathing a sigh of relief as President-elect Donald Trump appears poised to pick Elaine Chao, a seasoned administrator and political operative, to head the Transportation Department.

Beyond having already led a Cabinet agency — the Department of Labor — Chao has also done stints at DOT, including as deputy secretary of Transportation under Samuel Skinner, a George H. W. Bush appointee.

"She's fairly ideological — she's pretty conservative — but this is not an ideological pick, this is a pragmatic, get-it-done kind of pick. She gets s--- done," said one industry source who has worked with her in the past.

"I actually was kind of relieved" when her name came out, the source said, "because she knows the issues and she has strong management experience, and she's connected as all get out. And I think all of those things are really important, and not things that you necessarily get in your typical DOT secretary."

Under the last few administrations, the deputy secretary role is mostly an operational one — a fixer and right-hand man to the secretary job. Chao only served in that role for one year, but was heavily involved in developing a national transportation policy, part of which was assessing the needs of the system through 2050.

She also would likely have had some hand in developing the highway and transit bill known as ISTEA. Enacted in 1990, ISTEA was a landmark bill that not only increased the gasoline tax by .5 cents per gallon, but also expanded the Highway Trust Fund's applicability to include transit projects.

That should hearten transportation boosters eager for some of Trump's big infrastructure push to shore up the ailing Highway Trust Fund — though there's no indication that Trump or Chao would get behind raising the gas tax.

Chao also was involved in a bill — originally introduced by fellow Kentuckian former Sen. Wendell Ford — that created the Passenger Facility Charge program that helps fund airport projects.

In any case, Chao's experience, knowledge and connections — not the least of which is being married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — can only help Trump with his big $1 trillion infrastructure dream, in whatever form it might take.

"Her knowledge of the territory will be very helpful," said Mort Downey, who served as deputy Transportation Secretary after Chao under President Bill Clinton. "And if it comes to it, her knowledge in the Senate might be helpful, too."

Retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who helped push the last two highway and transit bills through to enactment, called Chao a "good mainstream pick" who "understands how to get it done and I believe someone who knows how important transportation is."

She also ribbed McConnell, saying: "I told Mitch, I said, 'Oh I annoyed you every day about transportation; now I know you'll hear it every day from another woman.'"

Though infrastructure is broadly considered bipartisan, Democrats in both chambers are already signaling that Trump's infrastructure plan will have to do more than spur private sector investment in infrastructure or create new toll roads.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she hopes to work with Chao to "swiftly pass a robust infrastructure bill," but that Democrats won't allow it to be "a Trojan horse for undermining worker's wages and handing massive tax breaks to big corporations."

And though transportation unions so far haven't sounded an alarm — at least in public — many in organized labor view Chao's tenure atop the Labor Department as problematic. On Monday afternoon the Center for American Progress declared her nomination an "ominous sign for workers."

In particular, transportation-watchers with long memories point to lingering concerns over the way the George W. Bush administration handled a 2002 labor dispute that shuttered dozens of West Coast ports. After Chao was unable to broker a deal between the warring sides, the administration sought and won a court injunction to force people back on the job.

Chao also was chair of the Federal Maritime Commission and as deputy administrator of MARAD — a resume that is sure to please maritime interests.

Jean Godwin, executive vice president and general counsel of the American Association of Port Authorities, said the group is "particularly pleased" with her maritime experience, and ticked off a list of priorities that include building on the FAST Act's multimodal freight efforts.

Chao, who already has been confirmed by the Senate before, is likely to sail through again.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), Senate Commerce chairman, called Chao a "great pick" who's done a "terrific job" and that he wants to "process that nomination as quickly as possible."

Nick Juliano and Lauren Gardner contributed to this story.

Back

Elaine Chao tapped to be Trump's Transportation secretary Back

By Seung Min Kim, Anna Palmer and Andrew Restuccia | 11/29/2016 07:01 PM EDT

Former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao was nominated on Tuesday by President-elect Donald Trump to head the Department of Transportation.

Chao ran the Labor Department under the George W. Bush administration. She met with the president-elect at Trump Tower last week to discuss labor and transportation policy, according to Trump's transition team.

Top Senate Democrats signaled that Chao may not face much of a fight to get confirmed, with incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) congratulating her earlier on Tuesday for her exepcted nomination and praising her for her "long history of service to our country."

"Senate Democrats have said that if President-elect Trump is serious about a major infrastructure bill, backed by real dollars and not just tax credits and without cutting other programs like health care and education, that we are ready to work with his administration," Schumer said. "I hope Secretary Chao shares that ambitious goal and is willing to work with Democrats to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and create millions of good paying jobs along the way."

The wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Chao is the first Asian-American woman to hold a Cabinet-level position. She also served as deputy secretary of transportation under President George H.W. Bush. Chao was also a member of Trump's Asian Pacific American Advisory Council during the campaign.

Earlier on Tuesday, McConnell declined to comment at length on his wife's impending nomination when asked about it by reporters, noting only that she's an "outstanding choice" and that he would not be recusing himself from voting to confirm Chao.

But once her nomination became official on Tuesday evening, McConnell issued a statement saying "I am so proud of Elaine as she continues her accomplished career in public service. I am confident she will do an outstanding job for the nation in this new and important role."

When she came before the Senate in 2001 as the Labor secretary-designate for George W. Bush, Chao was quickly approved on a voice vote.

Although Chao worked for the relatively moderate Bush administration, she's got serious conservative bona fides. During her eight-year tenture at the Labor Department, for example, she drew fire from labor unions and liberals for doing too little to enforce existing laws on wages, overtime and workplace safety. And federal employees threw a "good riddance" party when she left.

"She was a terrible Labor Secretary," said Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. "She cut the enforcement budgets and ... OSHA protections, thereby leaving workers less safe and more likely to be cheated on their wages."

And she increased financial disclosure requirements for unions, touting the rules as a win for workers who she said were harmed by corrupt union officials.

Her most significant accomplishment was a 2004 update to the rules governing overtime. Chao boosted the salary threshold under which virtually all workers were guaranteed time-and-a-half pay to $23,660, up from $13,000. But she also made it more difficult for workers who earned above that threshold to receive time-and-a-half overtime pay, prompting howls of outrage from congressional Democrats.

Hal Coxson, a shareholder at the management-side law firm Ogletree Deakins, thought Secretary Chao distinguished herself. "The standard initiatives that came out of the Labor Department ... were much less anti-business than they had been previously," he said of her tenure — a sentiment that could mesh well with the seemingly pro-business administration Trump is assembling.

Cogan Schneier and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

Back

Feds say they've done all they can on Gateway, now it's up to the states Back

By Dana Rubinstein | 10/14/2016 04:19 PM EDT

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer has a litmus test for the next president's transportation secretary.

Schumer on Friday said he will not approve a nomination unless the would-be official fervently supports building a new rail tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan, part of a project known as Gateway.

"I'm going to tell you this, Secretary," Schumer told outgoing U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx during a press conference at Penn Station. "You won't be here, but as long as I have a position in the Senate, the next Secretary of Transportation won't get confirmed unless they're as enthusiastic about this project as you."

It was latest exhibit of the federal government's ardent support for building a new rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River to replace the one now falling apart. That the feds are doing all they can and now it's the states' turn to step up was, in fact, the tacit theme of Friday's press conference.

"From the federal side, we are doing everything we need to do and will continue to do so," said New Jersey's senior senator, Democrat Robert Menendez. "But at the end of the day, we need the two governors."

Nearly a year ago, Foxx, along with governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo, as well as the states' U.S. senators, announced a cost-sharing agreement for the Gateway Program. New York and New Jersey would pick up half of the cost, and the federal government and Amtrak would pick up the other half.

The approximately $23 billion project will, among other things, create a new rail tunnel connecting New Jersey and Penn Station to replace the existing tunnel that, as Foxx put it, is "older than the Titanic," and falling apart. It will also replace the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River, which is also more than a century old and represents a major bottleneck along the Northeast Corridor.

At next Thursday's Port Authority board meeting, the bi-state agency is expected to vote on a $300 million commitment for the Portal Bridge replacement, according to a knowledgeable source.

But what was left unsaid in last year's announcement — and what is likely to remain unsaid at Thursday's Port meeting — is how New York and New Jersey will split their half of the multi-billion dollar cost.

Neither governor's office responded when asked when they planned to release their Gateway funding plan.

Schumer, a Democrat and New York's senior senator, said he had breakfast with Cuomo on Columbus Day, and Cuomo promised him the Port Authority would provide long-term Gateway funding in its 10-year capital plan, which it is in the process of updating.

Menendez, meanwhile, said he has "seen indications from Governor Christie that suggest that he's fully supportive. But at the end of the day, in order to attract all of these federal dollars, we are going to need the states of New York and New Jersey ... to come through."

The officials were addressing a dozen TV cameras in Penn Staton's inaptly named "rotunda." (Rotundas normally have domes. This one has a flat ceiling and ads for "chronic dry eye" treatments.)

They were there to announce a series of bureaucratic steps they said amounted to a "significant announcement."

"I have said the federal government will do its part to make this a reality," Foxx said. "And today, I'm here to tell you that we have met our commitments to do everything we can to move this project forward."

The U.S. Department of Transportation has added the tunnel project to the presidential dashboard, which officials said amounts to fast-tracking the permitting process. Foxx announce a new way for mega-projects like Gateway to navigate the government's railroad improvement financing program. The Portal Bridge and Hudson River tunnel projects are now in the "project development" phase of the process that allows them to access New Starts capital grants.

Schumer said construction is expect to begin on the new Portal Bridge in July 2018, and that construction on the new tunnel could begin in early 2019.

"We are doing it," said Anthony Coscia, the chairman of Amtrak, which owns Penn Station and the existing cross-Hudson tunnel. "We turned the hourglass over. We are building this project. There is no turning back."

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Shuster to meet with Chao 'hopefully tomorrow' Back

By Lauren Gardner | 11/29/2016 07:53 PM EDT

House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster praised President-elect Donald Trump's selection of Elaine Chao to be Transportation secretary today, calling her credentials "the right mixture" to oversee efforts to rehabilitate the nation's infrastructure.

"From the start, it was my hope that President-elect Trump would select someone to run the Department of Transportation who has a background leading large organizations, knowledge of how Congress and the legislative process work, and the right mixture of public and private experience necessary to oversee a bold agenda to transform America's transportation and infrastructure systems for the 21st Century. Elaine Chao embodies these qualities," he said in a statement.

Shuster later told reporters on the Hill that he'd advocated for Trump to choose "somebody who's politically savvy, who knows how to come to the Hill and work the Hill and make sure that, you know, you got to pass the House and pass the Senate if you want anything done."

Shuster said he has not talked to Chao recently about her policy priorities or positions. "I hope to, hopefully tomorrow," he said.

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Trump to pick billionaire Wilbur Ross as Commerce secretary Back

By Adam Behsudi | 11/29/2016 07:23 PM EDT

President-elect Donald Trump is expected Wednesday to nominate billionaire private-equity investor Wilbur Ross to be his Commerce secretary as part of his roll-out of his economic team.

Trump will pair the news with the announcement that he has tapped former Goldman Sachs executive Steve Mnuchin as Treasury secretary.

Ross, the 78-year-old founder of the private equity firm WL Ross & Co., has been a leading economic adviser to Trump during the campaign, and he is known for restructuring failed companies in distressed sectors like steel, textile and coal. But he also drew criticism for his handling of safety lapses after a 2006 explosion killed a dozen workers at a coal mine one of his companies had acquired in Sago, W.Va.

His appointment as Commerce secretary — long expected after weeks of reports from sources that he was Trump's choice — would place Ross atop a sprawling department with a wide array of responsibilities, ranging from monitoring the weather and protecting endangered whales to enforcing export rules for goods with military uses. He would also be in charge of implementing U.S. trade laws, on which Trump has advocated a tough line to defend against unfairly priced or subsidized imports from China and other countries.

"If America's trading partners continue to cheat, a President Trump will use all available means to defend American workers and American manufacturing facilities from such cheating, including tariffs," Ross wrote in a paper on Trump's economic plan with economist Peter Navarro, another senior Trump adviser.

Ross added that tariffs will not be used as an endgame but rather "a negotiating tool to encourage our trading partners to cease cheating."

Ross has degrees from Yale and Harvard and a house just down the street from Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla. His experience with so-called distressed assets, bankrupted in part by competition from foreign trade, aligns him closely with Trump's view that countries like China are beating U.S. industry.

Ross' business admirers praise him as the "king of bankruptcy," calling him a savior of failing U.S. companies. But that savior-like image might not translate for some lawmakers and watchdogs, who say his restructuring of ailing industries has sometimes come at the expense of workers' safety — as shown in the deadly results at the Sago mine.

He also has a dizzying array of domestic and foreign investments and business dealings, including board positions on at least five major public companies and leadership in private firms. That makes him a complicated choice as the official in charge of promoting U.S. business abroad and defending U.S. trade laws — much as Trump's worldwide business dealings have already raised complaints about inevitable conflicts of interest.

For example, Ross' investments in steel place him close to an industry that has waged an aggressive campaign of trade cases against foreign competitors in recent years. That could raise questions over whether he would benefit financially from favorable trade rulings by Commerce's International Trade Administration.

"He might be the second-most complicated person in the administration to vet, behind the president-elect himself," said Norman Eisen, a Brookings Institution visiting fellow who once served as President Barack Obama's chief ethics lawyer.

Ross would replace Obama's Commerce secretary, Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker.

Some labor leaders have praised the industrialist for daring to take a chance on companies left for dead.

"I really think the future of domestic manufacturing is people like Wilbur Ross," Bruce Raynor, the head of the garment workers union Unite Here, said in a 2011 New York Magazine profile of Ross.

Alex Isenstadt contributed to this report.

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Trump to pick Mnuchin for Treasury secretary Back

By Victoria Guida and Ben White | 11/29/2016 05:54 PM EDT

In a sign that Donald Trump is turning to Wall Street to help run his incoming government, the president-elect is expected to announce Goldman Sachs alumnus Steven Mnuchin as his pick to head the Treasury Department, a source close to the transition said.

If confirmed, the 53-year-old hedge fund CEO and Hollywood film producer would have a key role in shaping policies on taxes, financial regulation and the economy. He would be the third former Goldman executive to lead Treasury in recent decades following Henry Paulson and Robert Rubin.

Mnuchin would also be the second Goldman alum to take a senior place in Trump's administration. Steve Bannon, the populist provocateur who will serve as one of Trump's top White House advisers, spent the early part of his career as a Goldman investment banker.

Mnuchin emerged as a front-runner for the Treasury position even before the election, when Trump told aides that he wanted the Goldman veteran for the job.

Trump selected Mnuchin, who served as national finance chair for the campaign, after considering several other candidates, including JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas). Dimon told Trump transition officials he would provide outside counsel to the new administration but wasn't suited to the Treasury job. Hensarling will be key to Trump's efforts to rewrite banking laws from his position in the House.

Mnuchin shares Trump's skepticism about the sweeping 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, which fundamentally reshaped the way Wall Street works, though he hasn't gone nearly as far as the president-elect, who has said he wants to dismantle the landmark law.

In a July interview with CNBC, Mnuchin said the law, which imposed a swath of new requirements on the financial industry, "needs to be looked at." In a Bloomberg profile in August, he even said there are good and bad aspects of the statute, a position that few Republicans share.

The Yale University graduate spent nearly two decades at Goldman Sachs, where he was a partner and pioneer in the bank's powerful fixed income, currency and commodities trading division. He eventually became chief information officer. He now serves as CEO of New York-based hedge fund Dune Capital.

Mnuchin has also had a successful career as a movie mogul, backing major films including "Suicide Squad," which came out over the summer.

Goldman executives describe him as smart and well-liked, though perhaps lacking the powerful personalities of both Rubin and Paulson, who served as CEOs of the firm.

"I wouldn't put him in a category of people like Rubin and Paulson in terms of charisma and presence, but there is no question that he is very smart and understands markets," said one current Goldman partner who declined to be identified by name because he was not authorized to speak publicly about Mnuchin. "It's certainly good for us to have someone who understands how the industry works."

The Treasury secretary wields tremendous power and influence over markets and the economy, overseeing the collection of all federal taxes and managing government revenue. Treasury will likely play a major role in helping to design and push through Congress an overhaul of both the corporate and individual tax code as well as implementing what could be a very large infrastructure spending plan.

Trump's pick would also chair the Financial Stability Oversight Council — the financial industry's uber-regulator that consists of all the major regulatory heads — which is tasked with addressing "systemic risks" outside of banking and coordinating oversight across agencies.

Democrats wasted little time before blasting the news that Trump was turning to an elite financier to run his Treasury Department.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who has played a leading role in attacking the "revolving door" between industry and government, said it was more proof that in GOP-controlled Washington "Wall Street, big banks, hedge funds and the wealthy will be writing the rules to make a rigged system work for them."

"This is a broken promise to 'drain the swamp' and not the change hardworking people in Wisconsin voted for," she said.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) echoed the line of attack on Twitter: "Does @realDonaldTrump really think voters wanted to put Wall Street banker in charge of Wall Street?"

Progressives and financial reform advocates had urged the next president to appoint economic advisers willing to crack down on Wall Street. Given the populist campaign that Trump ran, repeatedly bashing Hillary Clinton for her ties to Goldman and other Wall Street firms, there was some reason for them to hope that the president-elect might pursue nominees from outside the financial industry.

Other troubles could dog his confirmation as well. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has accused Mnuchin of profiting from mortgage foreclosures after he was part of the takeover of failed bank IndyMac.

IndyMac Bank collapsed during the financial crisis, with billions in distressed commercial loans, mortgages, and mortgage-backed securities. Mnuchin entered into an agreement with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to buy the assets and share the losses, which turned out to be a profitable move. He renamed it OneWest.

Sen. Ron Wyden, the top-ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, vowed a "full and thorough review" of Mnuchin's nomination from the panel in the coming weeks.

"Given Mr. Mnuchin's history of profiting off the victims of predatory lending, I look forward to asking him how his Treasury Department would work for Americans who are still waiting for the economic recovery to show up in their communities," Wyden said in a statement.

Meanwhile, two California housing watchdogs alleged on Nov. 17 that OneWest, which was run by Mnuchin until last year, discriminated against blacks, Hispanics and Asians and avoided putting branches in minority communities.

The redlining accusation was made against CIT Group, which purchased OneWest in a $3.4 billion deal that closed last year. While the complaint doesn't name Mnuchin specifically, it could complicate his confirmation by the Senate. Mnuchin sits on CIT's board.

"It is concerning that he would be considered, given what we know of the bank that he helped run," said Kevin Stein, deputy director of the California Reinvestment Coalition. The group filed the complaint along with Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California. Both are nonprofit coalitions.

Former OneWest CEO Joseph Otting fought back against the complaint. In a statement distributed by the Trump campaign, he said the lender, after acquiring IndyMac, "remained committed to fair lending and meeting the credit needs of all borrowers in its communities, including those in distress."

Alex Isenstadt, Eliana Johnson, Lorraine Woellert and Zachary Warmbrodt contributed to this report.

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House eyes budget stopgap through April Back

By Rachael Bade and John Bresnahan | 11/29/2016 01:56 PM EDT

House Republicans may extend a budget stopgap further into next year in order to accommodate the Senate's busy nomination schedule in early 2017, Republican sources say.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) two weeks ago unveiled plans to extend current government spending levels through March, allowing President-elect Donald Trump to have a greater say in agencies' fuller 2017 budgets early next year. The short-term budget bill is expected to pass next week.

Trump's incoming administration blessed the plan.

But now the so-called continuing resolution, or CR, could extend through April, sources say. That's because Senate Republicans, under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, are worried that the workload required to confirm Trump's Cabinet nominations will bleed into the spending debate. They want more time to finish nominations before turning their attention to the fiscal fight and have been pushing for a CR through May instead.

A senior House Republican said the chamber's GOP leadership is looking to see whether it can accommodate the Senate.

House Appropriations Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Hing said no final decision has been made.

The Pentagon is already pushing back against the prospect of an extended CR, with Defense Secretary Ash Carter calling the move "unprecedented and unacceptable" in a letter Tuesday to Ryan and McConnell.

The Pentagon has long maintained that CRs are bad for the military because they make it harder to start new weapons programs or shift funds to new battlefield priorities.

"I urge Congress to keep the CR as short as possible and finish full-year appropriations,"
Carter said. "The longer the duration of a continuing resolution, the more harm to DoD programs and capabilities, and thus, the more harm to our national security."

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Congress nears deal on WRDA, Flint aid Back

By Nick Juliano | 11/29/2016 04:33 PM EDT

Congress is nearing a deal to pass a major water infrastructure bill and provide drinking water aid to Flint, Mich., and other communities, several senators said Tuesday.

Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said reaching a compromise on the drinking water assistance was one of the last steps necessary to reconcile the House- and Senate-passed versions of the Water Resources Development Act, but both were optimistic a deal would come together. The two senators said the aid package would be below the $220 million provision laid out in the Senate bill, and Inhofe said it would be as low as the $170 million in the House bill.

"If we feel it helps the people of Flint, this is a go, and if it doesn't help the people of Flint, we can't do it because we said ... at the outset that would have to be part of the bill," Boxer told POLITICO. "And it doesn't have to be here, it can be the CR, but we have to have the assurance that is going to be taken care of. ... We're not quite there, we're inches away."

The House and Senate WRDA bills differed significantly on the issue of Flint aid. The Senate's version offered $220 million in spending, with $100 million tagged directly for Flint, $70 million for infrastructure investment across the country and the rest going to EPA's lead programs. The spending would be offset by winding down a DOE loan program for advanced vehicle manufacturing.

The House provision, meanwhile, offered a $170 million authorization for Flint through an obscure Army Corps of Engineers program, but no actual appropriations. It was attached as a floor amendment, despite widespread Republican opposition.

Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Democrats, say they received a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to fund Flint at the higher level, and they are continuing to push for the whole $220 million. But House Speaker Paul Ryan never committed to anything more than what was in the House bill, Peters acknowledged in a brief interview Tuesday.

"Senator McConnell has just reiterated to me again today that he's committed to getting this done" either on WRDA or a continuing resolution that must pass by Dec. 9, Stabenow told POLITICO in a separate interview. "That's what we're trying to figure out. It's mainly an issue of the House at this point. But we have been promised one way or another."

Inhofe suggested Michigan would have to accept the House spending level.

"The disparity there is between 170 [million] and 220 [million] and I think the 170 [million] is going to work and it's offset so I think we're all right," Inhofe said.

Beyond the drinking water package, negotiators appear to have resolved other differences between the $10.6 billion Senate WRDA bill and the $3.1 billion House bill, although details were scant Tuesday afternoon.

"It's slimmer than it was, but we retained some very important provisions," Boxer said, predicting a final conference report could be ready within 48 hours.

Anthony Adragna, Esther Whieldon and Annie Snider contributed to this report.

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POLITICO Pro Q&A: MassDOT Assistant Secretary of Policy Coordination Katherine Fichter Back

By Tanya Snyder | 11/30/2016 05:03 AM EDT

Massachusetts is dipping its toes in the waters of driverless car regulation to create a foundation for MIT and other high-tech players that are getting ready to start testing the technology on its streets.

MassDOT Assistant Secretary of Policy Coordination Katherine Fichter, one of the commonwealth's leaders in figuring out how to regulate the technology, says Massachusetts is following California, Pennsylvania and other states that are further along in testing and deploying autonomous vehicles — and is taking careful notes.

Rather than legislate or regulate, Gov. Charlie Baker chose to issue an executive order that orders the creation of a special working group — comprised not only of transportation officials but representatives from public safety, housing and economic development, as well as the state House and Senate — to weigh which route to take.

A self-driving vehicle company called NuTonomy, which was incubated at MIT, recently announced that it would begin testing autonomous cars on Boston's streets in the coming weeks. But MassDOT says NuTonomy hasn't even submitted an application to start testing yet, and nothing's been approved.

This conversation with Fichter is the third in our series of Q&As with state officials on driverless cars. Check out POLITICO's interviews with California DMV Director Jean Shiomoto and Michigan DOT Director Kirk Steudle.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Other states are tackling the autonomous vehicle issue by regulation. You did it by executive order. Is that a better way? Why did Massachusetts choose to do that?

You can either have a law — regulations have to be backed up by some kind of pertinent law — or you can take executive action, which is what we decided to do. The field is so fluid and is evolving so quickly that an executive order gives us more flexibility. And one of the things called for in the executive order is for a working group to contemplate whether legislation or regulation would be appropriate. We see that as a potential next step.

The states that have taken action so far haven't all come at this in the exact same way. The whole point of NHTSA's guidance was to avoid a patchwork of state policies. How much diversity is OK?

It certainly seems appropriate to me that states develop policies that speak to their own needs and their own particular situations. I think everybody who is involved in this — from the government side, from the private-sector side, from the advocates' side — hope and expect that there will ultimately be uniform federal rules that govern it. But for now we don't have that so I think it is best for states on their own to figure out what is best for them.

I don't know that the federal government is contemplating anything but regulating the safety of the actual vehicle at this point.

Right, and that will be key in determining how they can operate on roads.

You mentioned that each state would tailor their guidance according to their own needs and situations. Can you talk a little bit about the peculiarities of Massachusetts that informed the drafting of your guidance?

Massachusetts has a very robust robotics sector and high-tech sector, and we wanted to be supportive of that, but we also have to be responsible for public safety and for making sure that any vehicle that uses our public ways does so in a way that is safe. I don't think those things are necessarily unique to us, but those were the things we had in mind as we were developing the executive order.

You mentioned the robotics industry is that why Massachusetts wanted to be on the vanguard of this?

I wouldn't say we're absolutely on the vanguard; I'd say we're probably in the second wave, which is exactly where we want to be. Michigan, California, Texas, Virginia, Florida — there are places that are ahead of us and we are certainly learning from them. We have a relationship with Pennsylvania, and we have been able to benefit from information about how they're handling their automated Uber pilot.

And at this point California is on their second generation of regulation. There are advantages to not being the first mover because you have peers you can look to. I think we are pretty much exactly where we want to be.

About a year ago we actually considered whether it would be appropriate to make some sort of statement or pass legislation or do regulation related to this, and we decided it wasn't timely for us yet. We wanted to wait and see how things evolved. So I think we're right where we want to be.

Did you feel like it was time to act because there were entities in your state, MIT and others, that are wanting to do (at least) testing?

At this point nobody has filed an application or approached us with formal materials to initiate testing. We've had informal conversations. But yes, obviously we want to support our robotics economy, our high-tech economy. And we know there are folks who are working on both automated components as well as full vehicles. It was more that we wanted to clarify what our thinking was at this point in terms of how we wanted these kinds of vehicles to be able to use our roads.

Is there anything else NHTSA could do that would help you figure this out as a state?

One of the pieces that's still outstanding from NHTSA is what they call the safety checklist — we understand that that's supposed to be coming in the first quarter of the new year. I think that's something that's going to be very important to states and municipalities that are thinking of allowing testing. I think one of the challenges for government is going to be trying to do an independent assessment of the safety and functionality of some of these new vehicle and technology types. So seeing what NHTSA has to say about that will be very helpful.

This is something that's moving so quickly and changing so fast that any guidance is helpful. We're all trying to learn as quickly as we can. Understanding what the federal government's position will be is helpful. But I think for now we have a pretty good handle on what we want to have happen here in [the] commonwealth, and that's what we tried to articulate in the executive order.

Can Massachusetts municipalities create their own laws on this? Is that something that the commonwealth would try to avoid?

The process that we are contemplating, at least for testing regimes — which is really where everything is at this point — would require a partnership between a municipality and an auto manufacturer or a component manufacturer — somebody who wants to test something — and they would come to us together — the city or town in partnership with the company — to say they want to test.

Massachusetts, and New England in general, have really strong municipalities. We don't really have a county or regional system, so we have really strong cities and towns, which do have their own traffic laws to some extent, but a lot of it is governed at the state level. But since we're still in the pilot testing phase, what we're contemplating is working individually with the cities that are interested.

But a municipality or city couldn't say, "Well the commonwealth is OK with X,Y and Z, but we wouldn't allow that." Or could they?

I'm not precisely sure what laws would govern, but certainly we would not try to foist testing — and I don't think a manufacturer would be sensible to try to foist testing — on a municipality that didn't want it.

As long as you're in testing, that makes sense, but once you're in full deployment mode it'll be harder.

Yeah, that's just not where we are right now.

States are having to deal with not just permitting vehicle testing but thinking about things like insurance and liability, law enforcement, ethical considerations — what are the most difficult issues you are wrestling with?

Yeah, it's sort of endless, and you've identified some of them. The most immediate concerns for us relate to public safety, and ensuring that we have the capabilities and the awareness to inspect the vehicles and be sure they are safe.

Beyond that, automated vehicles raise a whole host of issues. They have the potential to be really transformative for the transportation industry, for transportation networks, for the way people live and get around — or not. Nobody quite knows at this point. One of the things we're interested in is trying to influence the industry to, as vehicles become automated, to make them clean-running vehicles — that they're electric or hybrids.

We want to make sure that if automated vehicles are really able to reduce some of the challenges of driving, that it doesn't just mean that people end up driving even more, because that produces other social problems. We don't know what automated vehicles might mean for parking, we don't know what they mean for social equity, for economic equity. There are all sorts of issues in the near, middle and long term, and we're talking about all of them but I don't think anybody has very clear answers.

And we also don't know how the public is going to accept them, or how they're going to get rolled out and when.

That's a pretty good overview of the issues.

I think that's just the beginning!

Are there Infrastructure changes you're looking at to align with driverless cars?

Not at this point. It's something we've discussed with various interested industry folks and one of the things we have heard is that they would rather we leave the transportation network the way it is so the cars learn how to function within it. I think certainly on test tracks they tend to do things like have bright lines on the road and very clear signs that we don't necessarily always see in the real world. It's something we are aware of but not something we are contemplating in the near term. And at this point, honestly, we wouldn't even know what to do.

It seems like there is going to be a long and potentially messy transition period before we get to full saturation of fully autonomous vehicles. Does it require a different kind of leadership from the state — rather than just saying, "We're supportive of fully autonomous vehicles and we're heading in that direction" — to try to provide guidance for all these interim scenarios for how autonomous and non-autonomous vehicles will interact?

I don't know that it's the policy of the commonwealth of Massachusetts to say that we anticipate a future that's made up entirely of fully autonomous vehicles. That's a potential future.

You do potentially have a difficult period where you have different types of technology operating on the roads together, so I think it's incumbent upon the industry and the people overseeing the gradual introduction of more automated vehicles — if that's the way we go — to make sure that they can function safely with conventional vehicles, because they will still be out there for a long time.

We have transitioned transportation technologies in the past, and it has never been a full, clean, "one day everyone does this and the next day everybody does that." So in some ways this is unprecedented, but in other ways it is something that human beings have experienced in the past.

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Becerra vies for Ways and Means post as Levin steps aside Back

By Heather Caygle and Bernie Becker | 11/29/2016 06:56 PM EDT

The battle is on to be the next top Democrat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Both Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) and Richard Neal (D-Mass.) announced Tuesday they would seek the post, shortly after the long-time ranking member, Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), said that he wouldn't run for the top job again.

The change at the top of the committee comes as lawmakers are gearing up for looming fights over tax reform and health care next year, and as House Democrats deal with their own internal divisions over a seniority system that has many junior lawmakers feeling bottled up. Levin himself had faced questions in recent years over whether it was time for Democrats to install a younger lawmaker in his position.

Becerra and Neal are already making contrasting pitches to their Democratic colleagues as they seek the ranking member slot, with Becerra plugging himself as a fighter ready to take on President-elect Donald Trump and his agenda. Becerra, 58, is term-limited in his current role as House Democratic Caucus chairman, and has made no secret of looking for another prominent perch once his tenure ends.

"With the White House and Congress in Republican hands, we need a strong, experience and energetic leader who will take the fight for our democratic values on the Ways and Means Committee to the American people," Becerra wrote in a letter to colleagues Tuesday evening. "Over the years, I have prepared for just such an assignment."

Neal, who's generally been more likely to work across the aisle on Ways and Means than Becerra, maintained that he also was better prepared on policy matters such as taxes, Medicare, Social Security and welfare.

"I think that I've got a really sound working knowledge of all those issues," said Neal, who said he just found out the position would be open when he landed in Washington late Tuesday afternoon. "I don't think that's even in dispute."

Neal, 67, also noted that he had more seniority on the panel than Becerra — which he acknowledged was something of an ironic point, given that he had unsuccessfully challenged Levin for the ranking member's slot in 2010. And Neal, who's also been seen as fairly close to the business community for a Democrat, argued that one of the lessons that Democrats needed to learn from the 2016 election was that the party needed to expand its appeal.

"I can say this with some sense of satisfaction — I think I can walk into a room with organized labor, business, high-tech, you name it, and have an understanding of the issues," Neal said. "I think that if there's a lesson that came out of this election, everywhere: The base alone doesn't do it."

In a separate letter to colleagues, Levin said that Trump's recent election convinced him to step aside, both to allow younger House Democrats a chance to progress and to allow Levin to focus on policy issues.

Levin told reporters Tuesday evening that he'd be backing Becerra to be his replacement, saying he was just the leader needed to take on the GOP. The Michigan congressman has been top Democrat on Ways and Means since March 2010, and narrowly turned aside Neal's challenge in December of that year.

"The Republicans are really trying to tear apart every single thing that we've put together, and Xavier has shown the ability to be faithful to our values and find a way to try and implement them effectively," Levin said.

Still, Neal said that he expected the "substantial majority" of Democrats on the panel to be in his corner.

The Ways and Means Committee is expected to play a key role next year, now that Republicans have full control in Washington for the first time in a decade. Trump and top GOP lawmakers have all said they want to overhaul the tax code and repeal Obamacare, while key Republicans on Capitol Hill have also floated the idea of revamping Medicare.

Levin's decision to step aside could help ease the simmering tensions among more junior House Democrats, who have long complained that there are few opportunities for ambitious younger members to move up.

Becerra has been in Congress for two decades, and served in House Democratic leadership since 2009 — first as caucus vice-chair and then as chairman.

But term-limited and with no turnover in the top ranks of Democratic leadership — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Whip Steny Hoyer have been in control of the caucus for more than a decade—Becerra has had to look elsewhere for advancement.

He was even floated as a potential running mate for Hillary Clinton earlier this year and later pitched as a potential Democratic National Committee chairman.

House Democrats have been pushing for a bevy of changes since the party's Election Day drubbing, prompting Pelosi to announce a handful of new leadership positions and forcing the long-time leader to fend off a challenge from Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio.

But term limits for committee ranking members is like the third-rail of the Democratic Caucus, and something both Pelosi and Ryan have shown no interest in taking on in their leadership battle.

Levin's departure opens the door for a fresh face on one of the House's prime committees without members having to litigate the term-limits issue.

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