Senators vet Buttigieg to run Transportation Department

Senators vet Buttigieg to run Transportation Department
© Bloomberg/Pool

Senators vetted former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Increased security on Capitol Hill amid QAnon's March 4 date Biden to meet with bipartisan lawmakers on infrastructure The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Lawmakers face Capitol threat as senators line up votes for relief bill MORE on Thursday, President BidenJoe BidenTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot FireEye finds evidence Chinese hackers exploited Microsoft email app flaw since January Biden officials to travel to border amid influx of young migrants MORE’s pick to lead the Transportation Department.

Buttigieg, an Army veteran who ran against Biden in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, would make history as the first openly gay Cabinet member confirmed by the Senate, if he wins approval.

In opening remarks at his confirmation hearing, Buttigieg emphasized the need for safety in the transportation sector amid the pandemic, and highlighted infrastructure as an area where there is “a lot of work to do.”


“I believe that good transportation policy can play no less a role than making possible the American Dream, getting people and goods to where they need to be, directly and indirectly creating good-paying jobs,” Buttigieg said, while adding that misguided policies can reinforce racial and economic inequity and divide neighborhoods.

Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March MORE of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, welcomed Buttigieg and his “valuable perspective” as a former local official.

In a light-hearted exchange, Buttigieg quipped that he would be the second biggest Amtrak enthusiast in the administration. Biden is an outspoken advocate for Amtrak and would regularly commute between Delaware on Washington by train when he was a senator.

Buttigieg also received across-the-aisle support from GOP Sen. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungSenators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China Overnight Defense: DC Guard chief testifies about hampered Capitol attack response | US contractor dies of heart attack after Iraq rocket attack | Pentagon watchdog finds 'inappropriate conduct' by ex-White House doctor Biden reignites war powers fight with Syria strike MORE, a senator from his home state of Indiana. Young introduced Buttigieg and said he hopes he will be confirmed.

Senate confirmation would require a simple majority.

Buttigieg fielded questions from Republicans on issues like increasing the gas tax and Biden’s executive order from Wednesday revoking a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.


“The president, of course, has kept the promise that he’s made to voters when it comes to climate,” Buttigieg said when Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Finger-pointing on Capitol riot; GOP balks at Biden relief plan Sanders votes against Biden USDA nominee Vilsack Senate confirms Vilsack as Agriculture secretary MORE (R-Alaska) questioned him on Biden putting “thousands of union workers out of work.”

“More good paying union jobs will be created in the context of the climate and infrastructure work we have before us,” Buttigieg said.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCrenshaw pours cold water on 2024 White House bid: 'Something will emerge' Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks The Hill's 12:30 Report: Washington on high alert as QAnon theory marks March 4 MORE (R-Texas) later declared, “today’s Democratic Party is not concerned with working men and women having jobs, and the answer is we will eliminate your jobs and I guess good luck in the future.”

“One of the main things we will be judged on is whether we did enough to stop the destruction of life and property,” Buttigieg responded.

Biden's nominee left the door open to raising the gas tax to fund the Highway Trust Fund.

“I think all options have to be on the table,” Buttigieg said in response to a question from Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), noting that the gas tax hasn’t been increased since 1993.

“In the near term, we need a solution that can provide some predictability and sustainability,” Buttigieg added.

After the hearing, a Buttigieg spokesperson walked back the nominee's response to the gas tax question.

A “variety of options need to be on the table to ensure we can invest in our highways and create jobs, but increasing the gas tax is not among them,” the spokesperson told The Hill.

Raising the gas tax would require congressional action.

Scott also asked Buttigieg about his support for the Green New Deal during the Democratic primary. Biden has said he does not support the proposal.

“Of course, the president won our primary and the election and that will be the vision that moves forward,” Buttigieg said. “We cannot afford to not invest in climate.”


The confirmation hearing also involved a discussion of automated and electric vehicles — two areas Buttigieg said he looked forward to advancements in and where he said “American workers should be leading the way.”

Biden’s energy platform includes adding 500,000 charging stations by the end of 2030, a goal Buttigieg said he believes can be achieved.

The former mayor also said he would be open to expanding the Transportation Department leadership team to include an adviser who works on accessibility issues, when questioned on the issue by Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthDuckworth, Norton call for improved accessibility for the blind at FDR memorial Bipartisan group of senators introduces bill to rein in Biden's war powers Rosen to lead Senate Democrats' efforts to support female candidates MORE (D-Ill.).

Fellow 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference Klobuchar, Murkowski urge FTC to protect domestic abuse victims' data MORE (D-Minn.), who clashed with Buttigieg during the primary over what the senator said was his lack of experience, said on Thursday that she can attest to what a “forward thinking” secretary Buttigieg would be from her time on the trail.

The committee has not yet scheduled a vote on whether to advance Buttigieg's nomination to the full Senate.

Updated at 3:38 p.m.