by Todd DeFeo
Republicans on the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee want to know whether Amtrak gave Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden special treatment.
In a letter to Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer William Flynn, the lawmakers ask whether the former vice president’s use of a chartered Amtrak train for a recent campaign trip disrupted Amtrak service or interfered with freight train operations. They also want to know how many employees were “taken off their regular duties to staff the Biden campaign charter train, including any overtime hours worked.”
“We are concerned that the Biden campaign’s use of Amtrak’s charter train redirected Amtrak’s scarce resources during a time of record losses, employee layoffs, and service cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the lawmakers wrote.
“We are concerned that the apparent use of a struggling, resource-deprived, publicly-run service for political gain does not serve the best interests of Amtrak or the American taxpayers at this time,” they added. “Given that the Biden campaign declined to disclose what it paid to use Amtrak’s resources, we want to ensure that the campaign paid a full, non-discounted rate.”
U.S. Reps. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio; Scott Perry, R-Pennsylvania; Lloyd Smucker, R-Pennsylvania; and Rick Crawford, R-Arkansas, sent the letter.
Earlier this month, Amtrak said it needs more than $4.8 billion for the 2021 fiscal year to help it recover from COVID-19. Amtrak says it might need to eliminate 2,400 jobs and curtail service if it doesn’t get the money.
Biden is a longtime proponent of the taxpayer-funded Amtrak. Biden chartered the train to travel to Ohio and Pennsylvania as part of the so-called “Build Back Better Express Tour.”
An Amtrak spokesperson told USA Today the campaign did not receive any preferential treatment.
“There were no discounts or scheduling preferences,” the newspaper quoted Kimberly Woods, a spokesperson for Amtrak, as saying. “The railroad industry has a long history of operating special trains for public officials on both sides of the aisle, and Amtrak has been part of that.”
According to a New York Times reporter, the Biden campaign reported spending $265,000 with Amtrak for a train lease in September. According to Amtrak’s website, the price of a chartered train starts at $30,000.
“Anyone can charter a train with Amtrak,” a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter quoted Matt Hill, a spokesman for Biden, as saying in a statement. “Last time we checked, no one can charter the White House South Lawn for a political convention. Instead of wasting time on political stunts, congressional Republicans should stop ignoring Donald Trump’s blatant abuses of taxpayer money and government resources.”
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