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Infrastructure in the News 10.18.16

BAF IN THE NEWS

 

Society for Human Resource Management: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Both Support Surge in Infrastructure Work

https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/trump-clinton-surge-infrastructure-spending.aspx

"We're really hopeful that, no matter who wins, some type of infrastructure plan will be put forth and taken up within the first 100 days," said Kerry E. O'Hare, vice president and director of policy at Building America's Future, a bipartisan advocacy group.

 

NATIONAL NEWS

Reuters: U.S. Motor Travel Increased 3.4 Percent in August: DOT

http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2016/10/17/us/17reuters-usa-gasoline.html

Motorists logged 284.9 billion miles on U.S. roads in August, the most ever for the month and a 3.4 percent increase over the previous year, according to data released on Monday by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

 

The Hill: The transportation trifecta: How car sharing and EVs can save the world

https://origin-nyi.thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/technology/301271-the-transportation-trifecta-how-car-sharing-and-evs-can-save

The technology cornucopia is about to deliver into the lap of lucky America three different breakthroughs that, combined, could revolutionize American transportation and produce sure victory in the battle against climate change. The next Congress should grant the tax breaks that will catalyze the potential of this magic combination into real benefits for Americans.

 

Equipment World: USDOT announces $65 million in grants for advanced transportation tech in local communities

http://www.equipmentworld.com/usdot-announces-65-million-in-grants-for-advanced-transportation-tech-in-local-communities/

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is providing roughly $65 million in grants to help support advanced technology transportation projects in local communities across the country to help leverage nearly $170 million in investments to help implement “smart city” technologies.

 

Forbes: Next President Needs To Support America's Infrastructure Investment Heroes

http://www.forbes.com/sites/fredcampbell/2016/10/17/next-president-needs-to-support-americas-infrastructure-investment-heroes/#2480f81e7a31

If the U.S. wants the technology and innovation it needs, federal policymakers should abandon policies that discourage America’s investment heroes and support the companies who are making the biggest bets on our communications infrastructure.

 

Market Realist: Is It Time to Fix America’s Ailing Infrastructure?

http://marketrealist.com/2016/10/time-fix-americas-ailing-infrastructure/

Beyond continual disappointments in global growth, the need for public investment is stark. The average age of U.S. public infrastructure is the highest since at least 1950.

 

Washington Examiner: Study: Hundreds of billions needed to update water infrastructure

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/study-billions-needed-to-update-water-infrastructure/article/2604792

The U.S. will need to spend more than $600 billion over the next 20 years to improve the water infrastructure of several mid-size and large cities with a declining population, according to a report released Monday.

 

STATE NEWS

 

New York Times: New Jersey Is Known for Cheap Gas. The Glory Days Are About to End.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/19/nyregion/new-jersey-is-known-for-cheap-gas-the-glory-days-are-about-to-end.html

Pity New Jersey. Buffeted by the misdeeds of corrupt officials, maligned by reality television and blasted by hurricanes, many natives say they grow tired of routinely having to defend their state.

 

New York Times: As Crime in the Subway Comes Down, Signs From an Earlier Era Do Too

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/18/nyregion/as-crime-on-the-subway-comes-down-signs-from-an-earlier-era-do-too.html

The “Don’t Honk” signs came down a few years ago. Notices urging pet owners to clean up after their dogs disappeared from New York City streets not long after.

 

Washington Post: Metro riders, officials fear communities of color may be targeted in service cuts

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/metro-riders-officials-fear-communities-of-color-may-be-targeted-in-service-cuts/2016/10/17/c3c1cd82-9494-11e6-bb29-bf2701dbe0a3_story.html

Even before Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld releases his fiscal 2018 budget, some riders and elected officials are crying foul about a cost-cutting proposal because it would disproportionately affect communities of color.

 

Washington Post: The 20 stations Metro could close during off-peak hours to save money are mostly in communities of color

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2016/10/17/the-20-stations-metro-could-close-during-off-peak-hours-to-save-money-are-mostly-in-communities-of-color/

One cost-saving scenario Metro staff presented last week in discussions about how the agency might balance its budget includes closing 20 low-ridership stations during off-peak hours; Maryland and Virginia have seven stations each and six are in the District.

 

Fredericksburg.com (VA): More requests, less money available for transportation program

http://www.fredericksburg.com/news/transportation/more-requests-less-money-available-for-transportation-program/article_31f0525b-3ed4-5382-9d30-54b1facee826.html

There's going to be a lot more competition in the second round of the state’s transportation prioritization program, now known as Smart Scale.

 

The Hill: DC transportation agency urges Metro to restore late-night service

http://origin-nyi.thehill.com/policy/transportation/301364-dc-transportation-agency-urges-metro-to-restore-late-night-service

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) in Washington is calling on the region’s Metrorail system to drop its proposal to permanently end late-night train service.

 

NewsWorks: Work on transportation projects resumes in New Jersey

http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/item/98104-work-on-transportation-projects-resumes-in-new-jersey

Transportation construction projects in New Jersey are getting underway again after Gov. Chris  Christie rescinded his executive order that shut down work.

 

The Post Star (VT): Vermont Transportation Board to discuss rail at seven public forums

http://poststar.com/ap/state/vermont-transportation-board-to-discuss-rail-at-seven-public-forums/article_449886a4-2f5a-52bf-8388-f6443d93b21a.html

The Vermont Transportation Board is holding public forums around the state on passenger and freight rail.

 

FutureStructure: Proposed Hyperloop Would Travel 381 Miles in 35 Minutes

http://www.govtech.com/fs/Proposed-Hyperloop-Would-Travel-381-Miles-in-35-minutes.html

A person may be able to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in about 35 minutes for $8 at some point in the future.

By Brianna Gurciullo | 10/18/2016 05:45 AM EDT

With help from Tanya Snyder

NOT SO SAFE: The House Transportation Committee faces a shakeup after Nov. 8, with several high-profile members - all the way up to the chairman - far from guaranteed to keep their seats.

Shuster: Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) is embroiled in a race many didn't expect to be so tight. His challenger, Art Halvorson, won the Democratic nomination as a write-in candidate after just barely losing to Shuster in the Republican primary. As our Tanya Snyder reports, it's not unprecedented for a sitting T&I chairman to lose reelection - it happened to Jim Oberstar in 2010.

Mica: Former Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), who has served on the committee since he was first elected in 1992, is one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country this year. He's just 2 points ahead of his challenger, Stephanie Murphy, according to a recent poll. Murphy was late to the fundraising game, but Democratic groups have set aside millions of dollars to flood the airwaves before Election Day.

Denham: California Republican Jeff Denham is again facing his opponent from two years ago, Michael Eggman. Denham won by a solid margin then, but the district has gone blue in the past. Eggman's campaign ads have tied Denham to Donald Trump. But Denham has the support of Republican outside spending groups.

Tanya has more for Pros, including how the retirement of four members could affect the committee.

IT'S TUESDAY: Good morning and thanks for tuning in to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Please send tips, feedback and, of course, song lyrics to bgurciullo@politico.com or @brigurciullo.

"She's Amtrak and ain't coming back. She's Amtrak and ain't coming back. She took everything she wanted in an old gunny sack. She's Amtrak and ain't coming back." (h/t Jeff Davis at the Eno Center for Transportation)

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

MEANWHILE, IN THE SENATE: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, is in a struggle to politically survive. Not only does she face a strong challenger, Gov. Maggie Hassan, in a state with a large number of independents, but she's also come under fire for backing and later dropping her support for Donald Trump. As POLITICO's Burgess Everett reports: "Yet somehow, through all that, Ayotte has managed to keep the race a dead heat. And the self-styled conservative-leaning-yet-bipartisan dealmaker could be one of the most influential swing votes in Congress - if she can hang on."

OUR FRIENDS ACROSS THE POND: POLITICO Europe is mapping out the challenges and opportunities for European transport with the launch of its Pro Transport service. To mark the kick-off, POLITICO is holding an interview in Brussels with European Commissioner for Transport and Mobility Violeta Bulc. The event begins today at 12:30 p.m. Follow @EventsPOLITICO using #PROTRANSPORTLAUNCH.

THE FUTURE OF DRIVING: Our POLITICO Pro counterparts in Europe have a special report on developing car technology. As our friends at Morning Transport told their readers, POLITICO is running seven stories "covering everything from hacking to regulation, the ethics of automated cars and the role of connected and autonomous vehicles in mass transit. ... First up is a look at German carmakers, and how they are preparing for the next leap in automotive technology. Germany's Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt has said that all major roads in the country will be in range of 5G signal by 2025 to allow connected vehicles to communicate. Can industry meet the ambitious timeline?"

A whole new kind of threat: The second story is on hacking. As Laurens Cerulus reports: "Automakers used to bashing steel and molding carbon fiber are less confident in making their computer systems resilient to cyber adversaries. ... Lawmakers in Brussels and across the EU have started to discuss how to build in better standards for cybersecurity. Car safety checks, brakes and seatbelts have been regulated for decades, but cybersecurity on entertainment systems or GPS navigation haven't. EU legislators are working with the industry to solve the issue, but for now they are letting carmakers come up with their own solutions instead of imposing regulatory fixes."

IG PICKS APART DOT'S CYBERSECURITY: DOT's cybersecurity systems are decentralized and scattershot, and responses to incidents have been "ineffective and incomplete," says a new report by the department's inspector general. As Tanya reports for Pros, the security operation center at DOT is limited in its "ability to effectively monitor, detect, and eradicate cyber incidents," according to the IG. That's because the department's CIO hasn't made sure the center "has access to all departmental systems or required the center to consider incident risk." The watchdog also found that the FAA has done airspace monitoring on its own, without approval, and failed to report incidents. In just 2014, DOT reported 2,200 cybersecurity incidents. The IG made four recommendations, including using a method to rank incidents.

** A message from the National Association of Manufacturers' Building to Win infrastructure initiative: Whoa! Clinton and Trump actually agree on something: a major infrastructure investment from the next president in his/her first 100 days. The time is now. Join with the National Association of Manufacturers to advance a REAL plan that will create jobs, save lives and restore our infrastructure. NAM.org/BuildingToWin. **

THE OTHER KIND OF PORTS: Administrator Mark Rosekind said NHTSA plans to soon release best practices for "modern vehicles," including their diagnostic ports. Rosekind recently sent a letter to House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton about OBD-II ports, which all automakers must install so they comply with emissions testing rules. Last month, Upton asked Rosekind to bring together members of the industry to determine ways to address the port's security vulnerabilities. As Eric Geller reports for Pro Cybersecurity, the "port's use has grown beyond emissions testing to support a wide range of features, and Upton and other lawmakers were concerned that it presented an easy target for hackers." Rosekind also wrote in his response that at the "urging" of NHTSA, SAE International had formed a working group to find "ways to harden the OBD-II port" and will make recommendations.

THAT'S SOME DEDICATION: The thousands of noise complaints that some airports across the country receive each year actually come from a small group of people who make calls again and again, according to a new study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. In 2015, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport received a total of 8,760 noise complaints. Turns out, 6,852 of those complaints - 78 percent - came from the same home in D.C.'s Foxhall neighborhood. The people in that residence made calls to complain nearly 19 times a day. Washington Dulles International Airport got 1,223 complaints last year, and 84 percent of them came from one person 13 miles away. The researchers say they're "concerned that a handful of callers - who contact not only airports but also the FAA and congressional offices - have unduly influenced existing standards" for airport noise.

UNITED PILOTS UNION ENDORSES CLINTON: United Master Executive Council, a union representing United Airlines pilots, endorsed Hillary Clinton on Monday. "Secretary Clinton supports union members, and specifically supports pilot-partisan solutions that directly affect the livelihood and careers of all ALPA pilots," Chairman Todd Insler said in a statement. The union is a member of the Air Line Pilots Association. "The United MEC recognizes her commitment to our issues, including her opposition to the NAI flag of convenience scheme, and endorses her for president," Insler said. Norwegian Air International, a subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle, is registered in Ireland. ALPA complains that "flagging," or registering, "its planes outside of Norway allows the company to evade Norwegian tax and labor laws."

SPEAKER PELOSI? Could Nancy Pelosi regain the speaker's gavel in January? With Donald Trump falling in the polls and down-ballot Republicans going down with him, it's a real possibility, POLITICO's Heather Caygle reports. To achieve a majority in the House, Democrats would need to capture 30 seats next month. With Democrats leading both chambers as well as the White House, Democratic lawmakers would be well positioned to push for major policy plans like massive investment in infrastructure.

As Heather reports: "Democrats are salivating over the kind of progressive agenda they'd pursue with a Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and President Hillary Clinton. Several Democratic sources told POLITICO the wish list would likely include billions of dollars for infrastructure spending, potentially an overhaul of immigration laws, and bipartisan fixes to Obamacare."

SLICE OF PI: The FAA Managers Association met in Orlando last week and heard from Sen. Bill Nelson, Rep. John Mica (who received the group's first Lifetime Achievement Award), FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Teri Bristol, COO of the Air Traffic Organization. FAAMA is represented by The Normandy Group, our friends at POLITICO Influence report.

SHIFTING GEARS: Scott Mayerowitz, who covers airlines and travel, was named editor of digital-platform storytelling for The Associated Press' business news department. Mayerowitz previously covered travel and business for ABC News.

THE AUTOBAHN (SPEED READ):

- "Justice Department in talks with Alaska Air on Virgin deal: sources." Reuters.

- "How Apple scaled back its titanic plan to take on Detroit." Bloomberg

- "Metro riders, officials fear communities of color may be targeted in service cuts." The Washington Post.

- "Bridgegate defendant claims he was duped." POLITICO New Jersey.

- "NJ Transit resumes full service at Hoboken station after fatal train crash." NJ.com.

- "CEO Mark Fields sets Ford on a dual track." The Wall Street Journal.

- "U.S. airlines booking services resume after Sabre fixes tech glitch." Reuters.

- "J.B. Hunt earnings fall amid weak demand." The Wall Street Journal.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 52 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 346 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 20 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,446 days.

THE DAY AHEAD:

8:30 a.m. - The Mobile Sources Technical Review Subcommittee of the EPA's Clean Air Act Advisory Committee holds a meeting. The Willard Intercontinental Hotel, 1401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.

9:30 a.m. - The Northeast Corridor Safety Committee meets. National Housing Center, 1201 15th St. NW.

9:30 a.m. - NTSB holds a meeting and will consider the report for a November 2015 plane crash. NTSB Conference Center, 429 L'Enfant Plaza SW.

10 a.m. - The Center for Strategic and International Studies and the United States Naval Institute hold a discussion on maritime security. CSIS Headquarters, 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW.

1:15 p.m. - The National Maritime Security Advisory Committee holds a two-day meeting. The National Conference Center, 18980 Upper Belmont Place, Leesburg, Va.

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

** A message from the National Association of Manufacturers' Building to Win infrastructure initiative: Our country's crumbling infrastructure is a national embarrassment: We rank 16th in the world! While other countries modernize and move forward, we're sitting in traffic and stuck in the 20th century. This means lost jobs, lost economic output and lives at risk.

Thankfully, Clinton and Trump have caught on and want to do something about it. But manufacturers aren't going to sit by and hope for the best. We're going to be strong partners and make sure America gets the infrastructure it deserves.

The National Association of Manufacturers has developed a blueprint for the next president and Congress, "Building to Win." (NAM.org/BuildingToWin.) We identify the problems and the solutions-a rare thing in Washington.

Let's seize this rare moment of bipartisanship to secure our place of economic leadership in the world. Learn more and join the cause at NAM.org/BuildingToWin. **

To view online:
https://www.politicopro.com/tipsheets/morning-transportation/2016/10/house-t-i-committee-faces-shakeup-after-election-day-019682

Stories from POLITICO Pro

House T&I braces for high-profile departures Back

By Tanya Snyder | 10/17/2016 02:52 PM EDT

The chairmanship of the House Transportation Committee - and Pennsylvania's 9th Congressional District - is Rep. Bill Shuster's to lose come Election Day.

The T&I Committee chairman is locked in a bizarre Groundhog Day of an election fight - again with Art Halvorson, a tea party Republican Shuster (R-Pa.) beat by a hair in the primary. Halvorson is now opposing him in the general election as a Democrat.

The race doesn't make the political trackers' lists of close races, mostly because it's historically a safe Republican district, and there hasn't been any public polling. But the fact that Shuster squeaked through the same match-up in the spring with a margin of 50.6-49.4 should make him nervous.

It wouldn't be the first time a sitting chairman of the House Transportation Committee lost his reelection bid; it happened just a few years ago to the late Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.).

Even if Shuster wins on Election Day, he'll be term-limited from his post in two years. So some of his colleagues have already begun campaigning for the chairmanship.

Probably the next-closest race among Transportation Committee members involves Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who led the committee between Oberstar's and Shuster's reign and has served on the committee since he was first elected to Congress in 1992. Now, Mica is ranked as one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the nation.

In one week at the end of September, Mica's district went from "likely Republican" to "leans Republican" to "toss-up" in the Cook Political Report as Democrats poured millions into his opponent's last-minute campaign. A poll last week showed him just 2 points ahead of newcomer Stephanie Murphy.

Since ceding the gavel, Mica has taken a lower-profile role on the Transportation Committee, spending more energy on the Oversight Subcommittee on Transportation and Public Assets, which he chairs. From there, he still gets to take jabs at Amtrak and criticize TSA overspending. And he did have a memorable turn during the debate over Shuster's FAA reauthorization, when - in typically bombastic style - he dropped the unexpected news at a subcommittee hearing that he planned to offer his own take on taking air traffic control away from the FAA.

And those aren't the only shake-ups the committee can expect Nov. 8.

Rep. Jeff Denham's California district has a history of going blue, and it could happen again this year as he squares off against the same opponent from his 2014 contest, Democrat Michael Eggman, whom he beat handily.

But Eggman is taking out attack ads tying Denham to Donald Trump; concerned that he could be unseated, GOP PACs have started pouring money into his Denham's campaign.

Other members also face an uncertain future, including Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), who holds Oberstar's old seat. Republican Chip Cravaack, who defeated Oberstar, held the seat for just one term before losing to Nolan.

Nolan beat back a challenge from Republican Stewart Mills two years ago by just 1.4 points and is facing him again in a race whose outcome is anyone's guess.

Several other members are retiring, including Reps. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Candice Miller (R-Mich.), Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), and Reid Ribble (R-Wis.).

Hanna is one of the most moderate Republicans in the House and the first to back Hillary Clinton for president; with his departure, Congress' ranks of licensed pilots will dwindle even lower.

In Hahn, ports are losing a reliable and often vociferous supporter; she doggedly tried to direct more federal funding for ports - including advocating for using full revenues from the Harbor Maintenance Tax - and co-chaired congressional caucuses on ports and on California high-speed rail.

Ribble has been a vocal opponent of raising the gas tax and has been a critic of a vehicle miles traveled fee out of concern about its impacts to rural America. He also helped draft a provision in MAP-21 to speed up environmental review processes.

His departure is not unexpected - he's long said he'd leave after four terms, though he was ready to leave after three, jaded by an unpleasant leadership struggle in the House after former House Speaker John Boehner left and a presidential standard-bearer he can't endorse.

Candice Miller's district on the thumb of the Michigan mitten includes one of the busiest crossings on the United States' northern border, and she's made transportation security - especially on waterways - a major priority. Miller lost a three-way contest in 2013 to chair the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the TSA, but presided over the Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee.

Though a long shot, if Democrats win control of the House, these departures will take their place amid a larger shakeup of power, with Democrats filling vacant seats on the committee that used to belong to Republicans and ranking member Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) taking Shuster's gavel.

Back

Inside Ayotte's fight for survival Back

By Burgess Everett | 10/17/2016 07:15 PM EDT

WEST LEBANON, N.H. - Of the dozens of vulnerable Republicans scraping to survive the year of Donald Trump, Sen. Kelly Ayotte might have the toughest job of them all.

The New Hampshire Republican was already on the hot seat before Trump arrived on the scene - forced to defend her generally conservative voting record in a state with a famous independent streak, in a Democrat-friendly election year, against perhaps the best Democratic Senate recruit in the country in popular incumbent Gov. Maggie Hassan.

As if that weren't problematic enough, Ayotte spent months awkwardly trying to position herself vis-a-vis her erratic nominee - declaring, in some kind of political Morse code, that she "supports" Trump but would not "endorse" him - before finally kicking him to the curb this month and saying she'd write in Mike Pence.

Yet somehow, through all that, Ayotte has managed to keep the race a dead heat. And the self-styled conservative-leaning-yet-bipartisan dealmaker could be one of the most influential swing votes in Congress - if she can hang on.

"When [Democrats] are looking at someone they can work with on issues, they look for me. I come to them. Because I know that I'm looking for common ground," she said in an interview here at a pharmaceutical manufacturer on the Vermont border. Of Hillary Clinton, she adds: "I can work with her and be a check on her. I think I can do both."

The race is one of a half-dozen that will determine control of the Senate - and total spending in the state of 1.3 million is approaching a jaw-dropping $100 million. Further, it pits two of the highest-ranking female politicians in the country against each other, officials who cross paths on a near-daily basis but couldn't have more different styles.

Ayotte, at 48 one of the youngest senators, stomps through the Capitol's hallways with a steely reserve, often warding off reporters with a glare. But at home in New Hampshire she's all smiles, a mom with a homespun appeal that leads many well-wishers to call her "Kelly."

Hassan, a 58-year-old two-term governor, is possibly the most disciplined Senate candidate of 2016, blitzing Ayotte with well-rehearsed attacks on her voting record and positioning on Trump. The Democrat has a compelling biography: Her son Ben has cerebral palsy, and her political career stemmed from fighting for his educational opportunities.

Hassan is well regarded in the state. She won reelection in 2014, an awful year for Democrats on the ballot. But this year the onus is squarely on Ayotte: She's taking fire from Democrats who argue she's a down-the-line Republican masquerading as a moderate, and from conservative activists furious she cut bait with Trump after he was caught on tape bragging about violating women.

To complete her high-wire act on Nov. 8, and perhaps keep the GOP's fragile Senate majority, Ayotte must convince voters simultaneously that she can work with Democrats but isn't deserting conservatives.

Her most immediate task, though, is navigating the fallout over her decision to ditch Trump.

"What she did was cowardly and spineless and a political miscalculation," said Republican state lawmaker Dan Tamburello. "If she rescinds what she did ... then I would happily vote for her. Up to and until that point, I'm not going to."

"I definitely don't want Gov. Hassan to win," sighs John Burt, another GOP state representative upset by Ayotte's move. "In the end, I will probably check the box" for Ayotte.

Tamburello says some angry Trump voters could defect to independent candidate Aaron Day; enough, perhaps, to make a difference in this air-right race. Day revels in the possibility that he could play spoiler, concluding in an interview that Ayotte's ouster wouldn't be "a huge loss. I think I can win, but I also think she shouldn't win."

Ayotte's backers believe that by parting ways with Trump, she's at least taken away that cudgel from Democrats. But Hassan has other ideas. She uses every opportunity to remind voters of Ayotte's statement this month that Trump is "absolutely" a role model, a flub that came just days before the infamous Trump video was published.

"To suddenly act surprised ... when those tapes were consistent with the character of Donald Trump that we've all come to know?" Hassan said in an interview in Concord. "There isn't any explanation other than her party and politics."

Ayotte, despite her disavowal, is still walking her Trump tightrope. She's not actively bashing him like Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), even as more allegations come out daily. Ayotte even says Trump still has a chance to carry New Hampshire, even as his brutal poll numbers suggest otherwise.

For her sake, he'd better: A blowout win by Hillary Clinton would crush Ayotte's chances. So as she opposes Trump, she makes clear she isn't asking the same of the state's Republicans.

"This is still a competitive presidential race and I think the people of New Hampshire will make up their own minds. My decision was my vote on this issue. I'm not at all [trying to send a signal]," she said.

Democrats believe Ayotte's support is on the verge of collapse. Informed a POLITICO reporter was venturing to the Granite State for a story, one senior Democratic strategist replied: "Why bother?"

Ayotte's distancing from Trump is part of a closing statement of sorts to voters: She insists if voters give her another term, they'll get a prolific senator in the middle of every major deal in the Senate, not the arch-conservative her opponent Hassan makes her out to be.

And from the standpoint of pure political survival, Ayotte's only path to reelection is to appeal to New Hampshire's broad swath of independents and not stray too far from the conservative base.

"This is a state that rewards independent officials," said Ryan Williams, a longtime New Hampshire Republican hand. "These are sophisticated voters."

Ayotte's record has something for the middle and right. She voted for comprehensive immigration reform, backed President Barack Obama's plan to curb power plant emissions and voted to restore expired unemployment benefits - all against the wishes of GOP Leader Mitch McConnell.

On the other hand, she opposed universal background checks for gun purchases, and she backed a bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Ayotte has voted to defund Planned Parenthood, though last fall she went against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as he sought to gut the group's federal funding in a government spending bill. She has sided with Republicans in refusing to take up the Supreme Court vacancy before the election - but wants the Senate to move promptly next year.

It's a profile that's earned her a diverse group of enemies. The conservative Americans for Prosperity isn't lifting a finger here even as it works enthusiastically to reelect Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a heavy underdog.

AFP gets involved in races where "there's a significant philosophical difference. And that's one that we just don't feel meets that criteria," AFP President Tim Phillips said of New Hampshire.

This year, Ayotte broke with the NRA on a failed attempt to keep terrorists from buying guns; subsequently the group has spent just $50,000 against Hassan. Yet rather than take that as a signal she's ready to deal, the pro-gun control Americans for Responsible Solutions is hammering her for voting against a 2013 background checks bill.

"Sen. Ayotte's no different than a lot of other Republicans. They weren't there when we needed them," said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

That's a message that Hassan is trying to amplify, casting her opponent as a lockstep Republican during her first four years in Congress who is now "attempting to walk her record back" because she's up for reelection. She casts Ayotte's decision on Trump as a microcosm of six years of doing whatever is politically expedient at the time.

"She either stuck with Donald Trump for most of the last year on 35 different occasions because she thought he really was the best choice for president," Hassan said. "Or she stuck with him for political reasons."

Still, Hassan is making her own tack to the center as Ayotte casts her as too timid to stand up to Clinton. Hassan insists she won't support current plans to close Guantanamo Bay or allow more Syrian refugees - positions that are more conservative than most Democrats hold.

The race to the middle is explained by a campaign that won't be won on party turnout efforts, but instead by fickle ticket-splitting nonpartisans, said former Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat who survived the 2010 tea party wave. There are more independents in the state than Democrats or Republicans.

Ultimately, it will be up to Ayotte to convince those voters she's worked on their behalf - not Trump's, and not even her party's.

"They want Republicans and Democrats to work together, strip off their party labels and solve problems," Lynch said. "Now, whether [Ayotte] has done that as much as she should, I don't know ... I certainly think she's saying the right things."

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Watchdog slams DOT's handling of cybersecurity Back

By Tanya Snyder | 10/17/2016 11:34 AM EDT

The DOT Inspector General panned the agency's handling of cybersecurity incidents as "ineffective and incomplete" in a scathing report out this morning.

The report notes that DOT's chief information officer hasn't ensured its security operations center "has access to all departmental systems or required the center to consider incident risk, thus limiting the center's ability to effectively monitor, detect, and eradicate cyber incidents," the IG said.

The cybersecurity systems in place are decentralized and scattershot, according to the report. While federal law requires agency heads to ensure the security of information systems, the FAA is doing its own monitoring without approval. In addition, the IG says FAA monitoring is weak and incomplete and incidents have been underreported.

There were 2,200 DOT cybersecurity incidents in 2014 alone.

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Car safety regulators vow to address diagnostic system cyber threats Back

By Eric Geller | 10/17/2016 12:34 PM EDT

U.S. car safety regulators will tackle cyber threats from car diagnostic ports in soon-to-be-published best practices, an agency chief told Congress late last week.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration "expects to publish a set of best practices for modern vehicles soon, which will address the OBD-II port," said Administrator Mark Rosekind in a new letter to House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, referencing the dashboard port all carmakers are required to install to comply with emissions testing regulations.

Rosekind was responding to Upton's Sept. 12 letter urging the NHTSA to convene an industry task force focused on vulnerabilities in the OBD-II port.

In his Oct. 14 letter, which a committee staffer flagged for POLITICO, Rosekind said that the upcoming best practices would rely on the widely used NIST cybersecurity framework and would be divided into "five principal functions" spanning threat analysis, response and recovery.

The OBD-II port's use has grown beyond emissions testing to support a wide range of features, and Upton and other lawmakers were concerned that it presented an easy target for hackers.

Rosekind told Upton that, at the agency's "urging," the professional engineering organization SAE International had launched a working group evaluating "ways to harden the OBD-II port."

"This group is making good progress," he wrote, "and the Agency remains hopeful that the group will move expeditiously to develop a set of recommendations."

A spokesperson for the Commerce panel said the committee "looks forward" to reviewing the regulator's upcoming document.

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Democrats dream the unthinkable: Speaker Pelosi Back

By Heather Caygle | 10/17/2016 05:01 AM EDT

Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House.

As Donald Trump's poll numbers tank, dragging the whole GOP down with him, the possibility that Pelosi could return to the speaker's chair after a six-year absence has suddenly grown very real. No one has done anything like this since the legendary Sam Rayburn did 60 years ago, and it is still unlikely to happen. Yet the House is definitely in play, according to experts on both sides of the aisle, which means the 76-year-old Pelosi could be wielding the speaker's gavel again come January.

It would be a stunning, almost unthinkable, triumph for Pelosi. Democrats lost 63 seats in 2010, and many thought Pelosi would - or should - retire. But the California lawmaker hung on. Democrats won seats in 2012 as President Barack Obama was reelected, but then were wiped out again in 2014. House Republicans amassed their biggest majority in 80 years, and there was open grumbling from some rank-and-file lawmakers about whether Pelosi should step aside for a younger leader who could bring Democrats back to the promised land.

Pelosi resisted. She saw Republicans oust John Boehner last year and replace him with Paul Ryan, 30 years her junior. Watching the rise of Trump, she started saying months ago that Democrats could take the House. No one really believed her, seeing her comments as just ritualistic posturing by a political leader trying to rally her troops.

Yet now, with less than four weeks to go, Democrats are suddenly hopeful they can pick up the 30 seats they need to recapture the majority.

"It's no longer, 'Can we fight to win the House?'" said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra of California. "It's, 'Can [Republicans] fight to keep from losing the House?'"

Pelosi sent a letter to Democrats on Friday afternoon asking for their thoughts on when to hold leadership elections in November, with the addendum: "Happily, we anticipate a large freshman class."

Democrats are salivating over the kind of progressive agenda they'd pursue with a Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and President Hillary Clinton. Several Democratic sources told POLITICO the wish list would likely include billions of dollars for infrastructure spending, potentially an overhaul of immigration laws, and bipartisan fixes to Obamacare.

If Democrats do take the House, Republicans would immediately be heavy favorites to win it back two years later; lower-turnout midterm elections typically lean conservative. That might make it all the more tempting for Democrats to go for broke while they have the chance.

Publicly, Democrats are trying to curb their enthusiasm, warning there's plenty of time between now and the election for the landscape to shift and that it's not time to start popping the champagne yet.

"Leader Pelosi is singularly focused on Election Day," spokesman Drew Hammill told POLITICO. Pelosi aides stressed that there's no measuring of the drapes or planning for a takeover behind the scenes.

Privately, though, it's clear Democrats - relegated to the hinterlands of the House minority for 18 of the past 22 years - are brimming with ideas about what they'd do if somehow, some way, they win the House.

Two big "i's" could lead the list.

"Hillary Clinton has said there are two big priorities she wants to tackle right away: infrastructure and immigration," Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said in an interview. "I think the appetite on our side of the aisle for both of those things is quite great."

Clinton has been talking since at least 2014 about pairing a tax cut for U.S. companies that bring earnings parked overseas back into the country with a major infrastructure package.

Some - though certainly not all - Democrats believe such a deal at the dawn of a new Congress could offer a vehicle for other big-ticket items, including immigration reform.

"I think that a jobs package absolutely will include investments in roads, bridges, schools, all the things that need to be built. That becomes, I think, the mothership to bring across the finish line other very important legislation, whether it's on tax policy or immigration policy," Becerra said.

Taking back the gavel might also allow Pelosi to take care of some unfinished business from her previous tenure and focus on progressive policy initiatives on which she and Clinton are in lock step, like affordable child care, paid medical leave and equal pay.

Even if Democrats take back Congress and hold onto the White House, they won't have a blank check to push through whatever policy agenda they want.

Assuming Democrats win the Senate, too, under that scenario, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would be laser-focused on taking back the upper chamber in 2018, when Democrats will be defending 25 seats compared with eight for Republicans.

Pelosi and McConnell have a cordial working relationship - they worked closely together to secure funding for the Flint, Michigan, water crisis during recent spending bill negotiations - but he would likely be looking to use the vast power of the minority in the Senate to scuttle the Democrats' agenda at every turn.

Though a Pelosi-led House might seem like too much wishful thinking on Democrats' part, even House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) warned recently it could happen. On a private call with donors Wednesday, Ryan pointed out that Republicans lost 21 seats in 2008, when Barack Obama beat John McCain by 7 percentage points.

Sources interviewed for this story were unanimous on this: If Democrats win back control, Pelosi is all but guaranteed to be elected speaker. She's maintained a tight grip on her caucus since losing the majority in 2010 and is a powerhouse fundraiser, bringing in nearly $560 million for Democrats since joining leadership in 2002.

Democrats would need to pick up at least 30 seats to take back the gavel - a tall order, for sure, but one that Trump's weeks-long nosedive has put in play.

Clinton is up 7 percentage points over Trump in the RealClearPolitics average, and Democrats currently have a 6-point advantage over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot. Those numbers are approaching wave-election territory for Democrats.

For now, Democrats are just happy to talk about something that just a month ago seemed out of reach.

"There's an overwhelming, very positive feeling [among Democrats]," Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Joe Crowley of New York said about "the real reality of taking backing the House."

Said Becerra: "It would not surprise me one bit if Nancy Pelosi made history again."

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Bridgegate defendant claims he was duped Back

By Ryan Hutchins | 10/17/2016 11:48 AM EDT

NEWARK - Bill Baroni, one of two defendants on trial over a scheme to close access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, took the witness stand in federal court on Monday, painting himself as a marginalized leader who was led to believe by his subordinate that that the closure of the access lanes was part of a traffic study.

Baroni, who served as Gov. Chris Christie's top appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said he thought David Wildstein - the admitted mastermind of the scheme - was telling him the truth at the time of the lane closures in September 2013.

"I had no reason to believe he was not," Baroni said in U.S. District Court.

The former Republican state senator, in direct contradiction of Wildstein's testimony in the same case, said the two had a discussion with Christie at the Sept. 11 memorial that made no mention of Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich or the traffic problems that were occurring in the town as a result of the lane closures.

While Wildstein had testified under oath that Baroni "bragged" to the governor that Sokolich was not getting his calls returned, Baroni said no such conversation ever took place. In reality, he said, the governor was told by Wildstein about an ongoing traffic study that could help improve traffic at the bridge and let Christie swoop in as a hero to motorists.

"David Wildstein discussed with the governor the traffic study that was going on at the bridge in order to see if he would be able to move mainline traffic faster into the toll booths, so Gov. Christie could announce he was able to fix the traffic problem at the George Washington Bridge," Baroni testified, saying he was part of the conversation for three or four minutes.

Baroni is charged alongside Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff. They were indicted last May on charges of conspiracy, fraud and civil rights violations. They are accused of closing local access lanes to the bridge - the world's busiest - to punish the Democratic mayor for not endorsing Christie's re-election bid.

Christie, who is currently a top adviser to Trump, has denied any knowledge or involvement in this incident. Wildstein, who was the Port's director of interstate capital projects, has already pleaded guilty and implicated the two others.

In court on Monday, Baroni - wearing a dark-blue suit, light-blue shirt and a green tie - said he ignored repeated phone calls and text message from Sokolich because he was told to do so by Wildstein, whom he said Christie himself had told him to hire in 2010. Wildstein reported directly to "Trenton," Baroni said.

"He said to me, if I called the mayor back ... I would wimp out, give in, and stop, ruin the study, which was very important," Baroni said. "David said to me: 'Let me handle it.' And I listened to him, and I have regretted it ever since."

Repeatedly, Baroni said the big mistake of his life was trusting Wildstein, whom he described in one exchange that was stricken from the record as someone "who lied to me over and over and over." He said he the fictional traffic study was Wildstein's "project" and that "he was going to be responsible for it."

Baroni said an email he received on the Sunday before the lane closures began reinforced the idea they were about to study the traffic patterns and whether there was a way to ease congestion on the highway approach to the bridge. The email mentioned bridge operations and police personnel being involved.

"It told me that this was a project that had professionals in the agency involved," he said.

It is highly unusual for defendants to testify at their own trial. Many attorneys consider it a risky move that can backfire when prosecutors get a chance to ask tough questions with the protections of the fifth amendment stripped away.

But the 44-year-old Baroni, who worked as a voting rights lawyer and an attorney for nonprofit groups, spoke with confidence over the course of about four and a half hours on the witness stand Monday. He frequently looked over to his left, making direct eye contact with jurors as he told his version of how the so-called Bridgegate scandal came to pass.

Baroni said he continued to believe the "traffic study" tale for months as he discussed the fallout with a number of other high-ranking officials at the Port Authority and in the governor's office. Even as worked with the governor's chief counsel and chief of staff to prepare for testimony before a legislative committee in Trenton - even as he testified under oath before that very committee - he said he was still under the impression he'd been involved in an effort that had no nefarious undertones.

In the immediate aftermath, he said he received direction from David Samson, a former state attorney general whom Christie had named the chairman of the Port Authority. Baroni said Samson was the governor's "best friend," and that he'd made it quite clear that he was to be the one at the Port who dealt directly with the governor.

Two days after the Sept. 11 discussion with Christie, the lane closures abruptly ended on the order of Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority and an appointee of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Foye, who was frequently at odds with Samson and other New Jersey officials, promised in a memo that he would get to the bottom of the lane closures.

"Bill, we are going to fix this fiasco," Foye said in one email to Baroni before the two spoke in person that Friday.

Samson, Baroni said, was deeply angered that Foye had gotten involved a New Jersey project. That had Baroni worried the issue could escalate and potentially poison their negotiations over a $30 billion capital plan for the agency. Samson has since pleaded guilty to bribery charges in another, unrelated case involving the Port Authority.

He said Samson was "yelling at me to go into in his office and - his word - 'punch Pat Foye in the face," Baroni said under questioning by defense attorney Jennifer Mara.

"I went to see Pat Foye," he added. "I did not punch him in the face."

Baroni is back on the stand Tuesday. He is being cross examined by prosecutors.

This story has been updated with more news from Monday's testimony and to clarify a quote.