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RACES TO WATCH: Most eyes will be on the presidency and the possibility of a Senate flip on Tuesday, but there are some other significant races in the mix that could shift the power structure of transportation policy in D.C. Among the vulnerable sitting members:
Peter DeFazio: The Oregon Democrat is in the toughest reelection race of his career, as we reported last month. If the influential House Transportation chair lost, it would mean a seismic change in congressional transportation and infrastructure policy. There unfortunately hasn’t been much, if any, public polling of Oregon’s 4th district in recent months, so it’s hard to know just how much he’s at risk. But the unique demographics of the district, a heavily bank-rolled GOP opponent in Alek Skarlatos, and massive uncertainty about the general electoral dynamics make it feel like anything could happen. Political oddsmakers still have DeFazio as the favorite to win, but lawmakers and lobbyists in D.C. are starting to contemplate a future without him — just in case.
DeFazio would be the second House Transportation chair to be unseated by a conservative challenger in recent years. Jim Oberstar was chairing the committee when he was unseated amid the 2010 Tea Party wave.
Rodney Davis: Davis, a senior Republican member of the House Transportation Committee and the top Republican on its Highways and Transit panel, is in a very close race in Illinois’ 13th district. Even though Democrats are expected to keep the House, Davis is considered an influential policymaker on infrastructure for the GOP.
Gary Peters: Michigan’s Democratic senator is in a race that could be pivotal for determining Senate control, but it’s also vital for the Senate Homeland Security Committee, where Peters is the ranking member and could be chair if the chamber flips. The most recent polls have Peters as a solid favorite, but it’s one to keep an eye on if you care about DHS, TSA and CBP.
Susan Collins: Another race that’s central to the Senate outlook and has a transportation angle. The embattled Maine moderate Republican chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on transportation and HUD spending. Her Democratic opponent Sara Gideon is ahead by a bit in the polls, but this will be a close one.
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“She just wanted to ride in a Delahaye 135 / She just wanted to ride in a Hudson Commodore / No need to worry anymore.”
LISTEN HERE: Follow MT’s playlist on Spotify. What better way to start your day than with songs (picked by us and readers) about roads, railways, rivers and runways.
NEW RULES: Travelers flying from the U.S. to China will be required to take a nucleic acid and IgM anti-body tests beginning this Friday. The Chinese Embassy made the announcement over the weekend. Those with direct flights will need rapid testing within 48 hours of boarding, the embassy said. People with connections will be required to take both tests a second time in their last-country-of-departure within 48 hours of boarding their final flight to China.
Submission details: Chinese residents must upload pictures of their results to the WeChat Health Code app, while foreigners will have to email the information to the Chinese embassy or a consulate along with copies of their passport information page and a signed health declaration form. “For passengers transiting in the U.S. before flying to China, please note that currently tests are not available in most American airports,” the notice said. “Passengers are recommended to use caution when choosing to transit in the U.S.”
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: A World Health Organization official said airline, airport and international efforts to reduce the spread of coronavirus have resulted in a “relatively safe” travel environment, “but the challenge remains how to ensure imported cases don’t make the outbreak worse in a country,” POLITICO’s Carmen Paun writes. Mike Ryan, WHO health emergencies chief, said there’s a low risk of being exposed to the virus during the travel process. However, authorities have to figure out how to integrate travelers into health surveillance systems once they’re in-country, he said.
GETTING READY FOR THE NEXT ONE: House Democrats are trying to make sure that the failures of this pandemic won’t carry over to those in the future. Rick Larsen, who chairs the Transportation Aviation Subcommittee, introduced a new bill on Friday that would require DOT to create an aviation pandemic preparedness plan, as was recommended by the GAO way back in 2015. DOT would have to consult with health and homeland security authorities, as well as aviation industries.
CURTAIN CALL: The FAA has been tight-lipped about what comes after its popular drone Integration Pilot Program, which worked with nine state and local government partners to test using drones in a variety of circumstances. But now that the IPP is officially over, the agency announced a new program to serve as its sequel. The BEYOND program, featuring eight of the nine IPP participants, will tackle remaining issues including “repeatable, scalable and economically viable” operations beyond users’ line of sight. It will also analyze the economic value and community impacts of drone operations.
It could also eventually pull in new participants, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a video message on Friday. “In BEYOND, we will continue the partnerships established under the IPP and make new ones,” she said.
SAIL AWAY: The CDC will soon lift its no-sail order for cruise ships, allowing them to return under what it called a “phased approach” aimed at preventing the coronavirus from spreading on board or to the general public, Stephanie reports. Cruise operators will initially need to show they’re abiding by testing, quarantine, isolation and social distancing requirements for crew while they build labs for testing crew and passengers. Subsequent phases will include simulated voyages and other measures to demonstrate how outbreak risks will be mitigated.
From the skeptics: The announcement follows reports that the White House pressured the CDC to drop an earlier plan to extend the no-sail order until Feb. 15, 2021. House Democrats are investigating the matter amid concerns that resuming cruises could lead to outbreaks. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) criticized the decision on Friday, saying it was the result of “corporate lobbying and putting profits over people.” He said the order “lacks the lasting change needed to right the ship on health and safety aboard cruises.”
MT EXCLUSIVE: House Armed Services member Jim Banks (R-Ind.) wants the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to reconsider its opposition to proposals to ban Chinese drones after the group provided what he called a “hasty dismissal of proven national security risks.” The Chamber said in a report last month that country-of-origin bans for drones could damage the U.S. economy “while creating a false sense of security.” Banks is a cosponsor of an amendment to the House-passed National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 6395 (116)) that would ban federal use and purchase of certain foreign drones.
“Congress does not have to choose between preserving our national security and maintaining a healthy UAS industry,” he wrote in a letter obtained by your hosts. “In this instance, we can ‘have our cake and eat it too.’” He said security concerns related to foreign-made drones highlighted the need to bolster the domestic industry. Congress should encourage that growth “by developing a clear, standardized regulatory framework for American drone manufacturers and promoting public-private research and development projects,” he said.
NEW FRONTIER: Waymo has become the first self-driving car company to release detailed information on its safety methodologies and performance data, our Tanya Snyder reports. Waymo unveiled a first-of-its-kind report on Friday about the three layers of its safety approach — hardware, software and operations. It also released performance data from the 6.1 million miles of automated driving it conducted in the Phoenix metropolitan area. The information comes a week after Tesla debuted a new feature called “Full Self Driving.”
The context: “The document release is the latest in the showdown between Waymo and Tesla over the proper way to roll out new technology, the level of autonomy required before calling a vehicle ‘self-driving’ and making such a thing publicly available, and the standard of transparency to which they hold themselves,” Tanya writes.
SPECTRUM WARS: DeFazio and Sam Graves, the top Republican on the House Transportation Committee, asked GAO to assess the impact of an FCC proposal to reallocate more than half of the 5.9 GHz of spectrum band reserved for automotive use. The lawmakers want the watchdog to look into whether “DOT and FCC coordinated to develop a federal spectrum policy for connected vehicles,” per a letter sent Friday.
The FCC is expected to vote this month on its plan to repurpose some of the spectrum set aside for Dedicated Short-Range Communications technology, which has yet to be adopted, and allow it to be used for Wi-Fi. DOT has opposed the move, with Chao even making a last-ditch effort to halt it.
— “White House plots possible second-term Cabinet purge.” POLITICO.
— “Biden staff call 911 after bus swarmed by Trump supporters on Texas highway.” Austin American-Statesman.
— “D.C. at odds with federal government over multibillion-dollar redevelopment of Union Station.” Washington Post.
— “New York subway’s pain could bring riches for bond investors.” The New York Times.
— “Qualcomm, FedEx, auto executives to propose transport policies for world in transition.” Reuters.
— “Helicopters over D.C. protesters broke regulations while commander was driving home, D.C. Guard concludes.” Defense One.
DOT appropriations run out in 39 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 1,062 days. The surface transportation reauthorization expires in 332 days.