Senate confirms Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary

Pete Buttigieg won Senate approval Tuesday as transportation secretary, the first openly gay person to be confirmed to a Cabinet post. Hell be tasked with advancing President Joe Bidens ambitious agenda of rebuilding the nations infrastructure and fighting climate change.

Buttigieg, a 39-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Bidens one-time rival during the Democratic presidential primaries, was approved on a 86-13 vote. Im honored and humbled by todays vote in the Senateand ready to get to work, Buttigieg tweeted shortly after he was confirmed.

Praised by Biden as bringing a new voice to the administration, Buttigieg takes over a Transportation Department with 55,000 employees and a budget of tens of billions dollars. He has pledged to quickly get to work promoting safety and restoring consumer trust in Americas transportation networks as airlines, buses, city subway systems and Amtrak reel from plummeting ridership in the coronavirus pandemic.

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He is expected to play an important role in promoting Bidens sweeping green initiatives, helping to oversee stronger automotive fuel economy standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support the presidents push later this year on a $2 trillion climate and infrastructure plan. That plan will be focused on rebuilding roads and bridges and expanding zero-emission mass transit while boosting electric vehicle infrastructure, including building 500,000 charging stations over the next decade.

Speaking on the Senate floor before the vote, Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, the incoming chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, praised Buttigiegs energy and fresh approach and said she looked forward to his leadership to address an aging infrastructure, including the crumbling off of bridges, delayed trains, buses, congestion, railroads, or any of the many issues.” We all know the nominee as Mayor Pete, a man who basically came onto the national stage as a Midwest mayor, who had lots of enthusiasm for making investments in Americas future, she said. Hes a young, energetic mayor who is going to help us usher in a new era of transportation. Before approval by the full Senate, Buttigieg had cleared the committee on a 21-3 vote. Some Republican senators during his hearing signaled likely fights ahead over the cost and scope of updating the nations roads and bridges, rails and airports, questioning in particular the administrations interest in redirecting money for climate initiatives. But they said they would look forward to further discussions with Buttigieg, including on their desired local projects.

Biden hasnt indicated how he intends to pay for an infrastructure plan, coming on top of the administrations proposed $1.9 trillion virus relief plan that has met some headwinds in Congress. Buttigiegs suggestion during his hearing that a gas tax hike might be needed was immediately walked back by his spokesman afterward.

We need to build our economy back, better than ever, and the Department of Transportation can play a central role in this, Buttigieg told his confirmation hearing last week, noting that the transportation sector, particularly car emissions, is the single biggest contributor in the U.S. to global warming.

He stressed that creating jobs, tackling the climate crisis and addressing racial and economic inequality will drive funding decisions at the department. The Afghanistan war veteran burst onto the national scene in 2019 after launching a longshot presidential bid, introducing himself to voters as Mayor Pete and drawing initial skepticism due to his youth and limited government experience. He outperformed expectations after zeroing in on a message of generational change, finishing the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses in a virtual tie with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. But Buttigieg struggled to appeal to Black voters and dropped out of the race after a crushing loss to Biden in the South Carolina primary. Buttigieg chose to quickly endorse Biden, helping him solidify centrist support against Sanders strong liberal challenge.

Buttigieg, a Harvard graduate and Rhodes scholar, now points to his experience as a mayor and on the campaign trail as valuable to his ground-level approach to improving transportation. He described initiating a smart streets program to make South Bends downtown more pedestrian- and bicyclist-friendly while spurring hundreds of millions of dollars in economic investment.

Hes also expected to be a regular presence on TV, helping to sell the presidents policies as he did during Bidens campaign. Since he was nominated, Buttigieg has appeared on The View, The Tonight Show, MSNBCs Morning Joe, as well as Fox local affiliates, addressing topics from Donald Trumps impeachment and the treatment of veterans to his goals of promoting green-friendly travel. Buttigieg brings diversity to the Cabinet. There hasnt been an openly gay Cabinet secretary before. Under President Donald Trump, Richard Grenell served as acting director of national intelligence and is openly gay, but did not have to face Senate confirmation as an acting director. In the late 1990s, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott blocked a confirmation vote on President Bill Clintons pick for ambassador to Luxembourg, James Hormel, over his sexual orientation; Clinton ultimately installed Hormel with a recess appointment.

Congratulations to Secretary Pete Buttigieg on his historic confirmation, Alphonso David, president of Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said after the vote. This confirmation breaks through a barrier that has existed for too long, where LGBTQ identity served as an impediment to nomination or confirmation at the highest level of government. AMSAMS


(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Federal staff and is auto-published from a syndicated feed.)

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