WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a confirmation hearing to be on the Amtrak board of directors, former U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., defended his previous votes to defund the organization by saying he was just trying to send a message of fiscal responsibility.
Rokita testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Wednesday morning, as he begins the process of being confirmed for the seat on the board of directors. President Donald Trump nominated him for the position in May.
While a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he voted to end federal funding to Amtrak twice.
One vote came in March 2015, when he voted no on the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015, which reauthorized federal support for Amtrak and other programs. Rokita voted no, but the vote passed, 316-101. Another came in 2017, as part of an amendment to specifically to defund Amtrak. Rokita voted yes, but the vote failed, 128-293.
Rokita served as Indiana’s secretary of state from 2003-11, then as a U.S. representative from 2011-19. He lost in the 2018 Republican primary to eventual Indiana Sen. Mike Braun.
“Sometimes in sending a message, we’re limited to yes, to no or to present,” he said this week. “I believe in fiscal responsibility for all of us. I believe my votes against these funding provisions sent a message to Amtrak.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., challenged Rokita on his votes during the hearing.
“Fiscal responsibility is a matter of priorities,” Blumenthal said. “In your view, Amtrak was a lesser priority than others.”
Rokita then referenced a part of U.S. code, which states, “Amtrak shall use its best business judgment in acting to minimize United States Government subsidies …”
“If that is statute, if that is the law of the land, then that should be our highest priority,” Rokita said. “And that’s reflective of my votes.”
Blumenthal wrapped up the conversation about his previous votes by criticizing Rokita’s answers to his questions.
“If you had said to me, ‘Well, my view will be different. I will be firmly committed to Amtrak. I’m in favor of adequate funding. I believe in fiscal responsibility, but Amtrak must be a priority for this nation.’ That’s the kind of answer I was looking for,” Blumenthal said. “Not a citation to some federal statute that frankly doesn’t justify voting against it.”
Rokita, who served on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in Congress and represented a part of Indiana that has an Amtrak line, defended his support in the organization at the hearing. He also noted he voted in favor of the FAST Act in 2015, which provided grant opportunities for Amtrak.
“I believe in a national rail system,” Rokita said. “I have been a user of Amtrak my entire adult life.”