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Pete Buttigieg, nominee for secretary of transportation, wins bipartisan praise from U.S. senators

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 21, 2021

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., greets Transportation Secretary nominee Pete Buttigieg before a confirmation hearing with the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Capitol Hill on Thursday in Washington, D.C.  (Ken Cedeno/Associated Press)
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., greets Transportation Secretary nominee Pete Buttigieg before a confirmation hearing with the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Capitol Hill on Thursday in Washington, D.C. (Ken Cedeno/Associated Press)
By Nico Portuondo For The </p><p>Spokesman-Review

WASHINGTON – Former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg received bipartisan high marks in a Senate confirmation on Thursday hearing while explaining how he will push the Biden administration’s ambitious infrastructure platform if he is confirmed as secretary of transportation.

“We need to build our economy back, better than ever, and the Department of Transportation can play a central role in this, by implementing President Biden’s infrastructure vision,” said Buttigieg in his opening statement to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Republicans and Democrats alike mostly were pleased with Buttigieg’s experience and aptitude for the job, foreshadowing a likely smooth confirmation process. A vote from the committee on the confirmation hasn’t been scheduled.

“You have put on a clinic for how a nominee should work and act,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. “For all the other nominees that are out there, you need to look at what happened in the past two hours.”

President Joe Biden has promised to spend billions of dollars in revamping infrastructure and transportation in the United States, a process that he said would create millions of jobs while addressing the growing threat of climate change. Biden has said his plan could include updating commercial buildings to be more energy efficient and providing every American city with 100,000 or more residents with zero-emissions public transportation options.

Buttigieg, who ran against Biden in the Democratic presidential primaries, said the administration also would try to enforce the new federal mandate on mask-wearing for all forms of transportation.

Democrats took control of the Senate this week. Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cant- well will soon chair the committee, but the chairmanship had not yet switched for Thursday’s meeting.

Nevertheless, Cantwell made sure to express her support for Buttigieg’s nomination.

“I am very excited that the president has nominated Mayor Pete Buttigieg to run the transportation agency and I look forward to his vision in leading that department,” Cantwell said.

Cantwell moved on to press the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor on infrastructure issues important to Washingtonians, including increasing investment in railways and moving forward on completing the North Spokane Corridor freeway.

She also mentioned the need for protecting Washington aviation manufacturing jobs from the effects of slumping demand due to COVID-19, and improving safety at highway railroad crossings, referencing to a train derailment that occurred in Custer in northwest Washington on Dec. 22.

Buttigieg also brought up the possibility of dropping the Highway Trust Fund, a policy that derives funding for highway maintenance and development from a gas tax, and said that “all options are on the table” to find an alternate source of funding.

Despite the bipartisan goodwill, there were signs of opposition to how Buttigieg will implement the administration’s clean infrastructure vision. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, took Buttigieg to task for Biden’s decision to halt the Keystone XL pipeline, which he argued eliminated 11,000 union jobs with “a stroke of the pen.”

Buttigieg said that the jobs lost will be replaced with many more under Biden’s clean energy and infrastructure initiatives.

“The most important thing is to make sure that we make good on the promise of president’s climate vision that on net will make far more jobs, millions we hope,” said Buttigieg in response to Cruz.

If confirmed, Buttigieg will be the first openly gay official in a Cabinet position. Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten, sat behind him during the hearing.

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