By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate was set to vote on Monday to approve a senior Transportation Department nominee and advance another nomination, after Republicans accused Democrats of blocking some nominees to push for funding of a New York area infrastructure project.
Derek Kan, who was previously an official at San Francisco-based ride services company Lyft Inc, was expected to win confirmation to be under secretary of transportation for policy.
Senate Republicans have said their Democratic rivals were stalling a number of nominees over a dispute over funding for the $24 billion "Gateway Program," which includes building a new tunnel underneath New York’s Hudson River. At least eight other Transportation Department nominations are pending and other jobs vacant, including a top auto safety regulator.
In September, President Donald Trump met with top elected officials from New York and New Jersey at the White House over the fate of the Gateway Program deemed critical to northeast U.S. transportation, but Trump made no commitments to finance the project.
Republican Senator John Thune, who chairs the committee overseeing the Transportation Department, accused Democrats of holding nominations "hostage" while awaiting "assurances that the Trump administration will approve and fund" the Gateway project.
"While no one questions the importance of this corridor, there are many other important projects that also are awaiting approval and funding at the Department. No project should get to cut the line based on the machinations of a handful of our" colleagues, Thune said.
A spokesman for Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer declined to comment, but a Senate Democratic aide said Democrats were indeed holding up some nominations "because they want assurances from the Transportation Department that the Gateway Project will quickly move forward after it’s funded."
In addition to confirming Kan, the Senate was due to vote on Monday on whether to end debate on the nomination of Steven Bradbury, a Washington lawyer, to be general counsel at the Transportation Department.
During the administration of President George W. Bush, Bradbury was one of the principal authors of the legal justifications for "enhanced interrogation techniques" called the "torture memos" by critics. Bradbury defended his work in June, saying the "questions we addressed raised difficult issues about which reasonable people could disagree."
The Transportation Department regulates the nation’s vehicles, airplanes, railroads, pipelines, ports and highways.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Brown)