U.S. Shipping Panel Power Balance Flips as Biden Pick Confirmed

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President Joe Biden’s pick to join the Federal Maritime Commission won Senate confirmation after months of delay, shifting the balance to a Democratic majority on a panel that regulates U.S. international ocean transportation.

Max Vekich, a former longshoreman who served in the House of Representatives in Washington state, will become the fifth member of the independent panel, succeeding Republican Michael Khouri, whose five-year term formally expired in June. The Senate voted 51-43 to confirm him Thursday.

The FMC has come into the spotlight as recent supply chain bottlenecks spurred increased calls for a crackdown on unfair ocean carrier practices. Bipartisan bills advancing in Congress would revamp U.S. international ocean-shipping laws for the first time in more than two decades, expanding the commission’s power.

The FMC has been probing how some shipping lines and port-terminal operators tack on fees for late pickup or overdue returns of containers. Vekich fielded questions about port congestion and supply chain delays during his Senate confirmation hearing.

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“Container return and the availability of export containers are other areas where work needs to be done,” Vekich said in October. “We should find ways to do everything we can to support our exporters.” Some shipping carriers found it more lucrative to return empty cargo containers to Asia during the supply chain crunch.

Vekich has decades of experience on the docks and his voice “will be an important one in addressing supply chain issues at our busiest seaports,” Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said as the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee advanced his nomination to the floor this month.

Ship Congestion on U.S. East Coast Persists While L.A. Improves

Vekich, whom Biden first tapped in June, was one of many transportation picks the president needed to name again this year after their nominations lapsed over the Senate’s holiday recess.

His confirmation was among those slowed by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who has been stalling transportation and commerce nominees since November until the commerce panel convenes a hearing with the departments’ secretaries to talk about the supply chain.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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