Senators vet Buttigieg to run Transportation Department
Senators vetted former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Thursday, President Biden’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 Wicker 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 Young, 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 Sullivan (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 Cruz (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 Duckworth (D-Ill.).
Fellow 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (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.