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Congress considers DOT funding, transportation relief

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A FULL PLATE: Congress will be put to the test this week, with the Senate plugging away on a next coronavirus bill and the House aiming to finish its appropriations process.

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In the upper chamber: Negotiations are dragging on between Senate Republicans and the White House over a variety of economic provisions in what’s being called CARES 2. Still, the text could be unveiled as soon as today. What you need to know: There are still no indications about whether airline workers, transit agencies or the others we’ve been following will get what they’re hoping for.

The asks keep coming: That uncertainty isn’t stopping anyone from making the pitch. The American Association of Port Authorities was the latest transportation group to plead for help, saying the industry needs $1.5 billion to help cover business-critical expenses due to the pandemic.

In the lower chamber: The House is lining up a floor vote this week on its remaining appropriations measures, including spending for the Transportation and Homeland Security departments, through a seven-bill minibus, H.R. 7617 (116). Concluding that process will put the ball directly back in the Senate’s court, with a little over two months before appropriations run out. Given the hostile relationship between the two chambers, that deadline will come up fast as they try to negotiate what will be very different bills with less than 100 days before the presidential election.

The House also is slated to take up a bill, H.R. 4686 (116), that would require ride-hailing companies to give passengers information about their driver.

Regular order: There’s also the matter of nominees, including two for the Surface Transportation Board. Michelle Schultz, deputy general counsel at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, has been waiting to be confirmed by the Senate for more than two years. Now that there’s a Democratic nominee for her to be paired with, Hill staffer Robert Primus, the two could likely be confirmed with little controversy if the Senate can find time.

IT’S MONDAY: Thanks for tuning in to POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Get in touch with tips, feedback or song lyric suggestions at [email protected] or @samjmintz.

“I tried to run it away / Thought then my head be feeling clearer / I traveled 70 states / Thought moving round make me feel better.”

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.

MORE PROBLEMS: The FAA issued an emergency airworthiness directive late last week following multiple reports of Boeing 737 jet engines shutting down mid-flight. The order instructed airlines to inspect and possibly replace engine parts on any 737 that had been parked for at least seven days or flown fewer than 11 times since being returned to service, The Associated Press reported on Friday. The FAA said reports indicated certain engine valves might be getting stuck in the open position. The agency said corrosion of the valves could cause a complete power loss that would force pilots to make emergency landings.

Boeing said the valve might become more susceptible to corrosion as the planes are being used less during the coronavirus pandemic. “The company said it is providing inspection and parts-replacement help to airplane owners,” per the AP. The order applies to versions of the 737 called the NG and Classic, and does not apply to the still-grounded MAX.

RELATED: The Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Tangel writes that freshly made Boeing and Airbus planes are gathering dust as fewer airlines collect them from U.S. and European factories amid a historic dip in air travel and pandemic-related travel restrictions. “The result: finished airplanes with nowhere to fly, and less cash for Boeing, Airbus and their suppliers as they slash production and payrolls,” according to the article. Tangel further notes Boeing delivered 70 fewer aircraft during the second quarter of this year than it did for the same period in 2019 — its lowest quarterly total since 1963.

FAUCI STAYS GROUNDED: Anthony Fauci has put his air travel plans on hold during the pandemic. The 79 year-old director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said he’s chosen to avoid flying, especially in light of the health risks for older people, USA Today reported. “I don’t fancy seeing myself getting infected, which is a risk when you’re getting on a plane, particularly with the amount of infection that’s going on right now,” he said.

He further suggested that checking passengers’ temperatures before allowing them on planes wouldn’t be the panacea for stopping the spread of the Covid-19 onboard. “I’m not sure taking temperatures is all it’s cracked up to be because there are a lot of false negatives and false positives,” he said. “It’s best to just question people: ‘Do you have any symptoms? Have you been near someone who is infected?’ The time spent asking a couple of simple questions is probably more effective than just taking temperatures, to be honest with you.”

ESCALATING TENSIONS: DHS agreed late last week to drop its prohibition on New Yorkers taking part in its trusted traveler programs, but if anything, the conflict is heating up after an unusual admission in court documents that the agency based its decision on false information. As POLITICO’s Bill Mahoney reported from New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he thinks that top DHS officials should be criminally charged. “There was a clear abuse of power for political purposes,” Cuomo said.

Contributing to Covid-19? “Without the trusted traveler program, you know what happened? The lines at the airports backed up. You know when the lines at the airport backed up? February and March. … That’s when the Covid cases were coming from Europe,” Cuomo said. “And they were playing their games and they backed up the lines of people waiting to get through customs and border controls.”

Congress steps in: Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee announced on Saturday that they’d launched an investigation of DHS’ conduct on the matter. Among other things, they took issue with DHS officials providing “inaccurate and misleading” statements during committee hearings earlier this year and sent a letter to DHS and another to Customs and Border Protection requesting all related documents and communications. The panel also is seeking transcribed interviews with both acting DHS chief Chad Wolf and former CBP Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner John Wagner, who retired earlier this month.

Sasha Johnson, a former FAA and DOT official, is getting a promotion at United Airlines: She’s set to be the new vice president of corporate safety following the retirement of Michael Quiello.

— “Southwest CEO says the airline won’t have furloughs, for now.” CNN.

— “Three people, including a 9-month-old baby, killed in Utah small plane crash.” Time.

— “Quarantine order blindsides Britons returning from Spain.” The New York Times.

— “Florida transportation official accused of actively hiding public records.” POLITICO Pro.

DOT appropriations run out in 65 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 1,160 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 65 days.

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