Senator places holds on Transportation nominees

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., has placed holds on two noncontroversial Transportation Department nominees to try to move his bill to boost Amtrak security. The nominees that Biden is holding up are Emil Frankel, nominated in September to be assistant secretary of Transportation for transportation policy, and Jeffrey Shane, nominated in October to be associate deputy secretary of Transportation. A Biden spokesman confirmed the holds and explained, "It's related to the fact that we can't get a vote on Amtrak legislation that has been passed by the committee that will improve Amtrak's ability to make passengers more secure." Biden pushed the legislation late last year as an amendment to an airline security bill, but agreed to hold off when promised that the Commerce Committee would take up the issue this year. Biden has argued that the nation's thousands of miles of track are just as vulnerable to terrorist attack as airports. But a Republican leadership aide questioned Biden's tactics. "It's alarming that Sen. Biden would hold hostage nominees that are critical to providing security in exchange for other security measures," said the aide. An aide said Biden had decided to place holds on the nominations, as is allowed under Senate practices, because a senator is holding up the Amtrak bill, which contains an authorization of about $1.8 billion for security upgrades. But a GOP aide said the bill has not yet been "hotlined" to allow senators to voice their objections. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., sets the Senate floor schedule, so Biden's move seems intended to raise the profile of the issue by holding up the president's nominees. A Democratic leadership aide said the bill is not on the immediate floor schedule. Introduced by Senate Commerce Chairman Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., and ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., the bill has been placed on the Senate calendar after being reported by the Commerce Committee.