Last week, one day after President Biden’s inauguration, Transportation Secretary-designate Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and presidential candidate during the Democratic primaries in 2020, appeared before the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce & Transportation for his confirmation hearing. The hearing lasted about 2 1/2 hours.
Given that the hearing lasted less than three hours, there was not much time spent on any single topic. Several lawmakers asked Buttigieg if he would work with them on specific projects they were interested in. For example, outgoing committee chair Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), invited Buttigieg to visit the Gulf Coast to consider the restoration of Amtrak passenger rail service along a route that was discontinued after Hurricane Katrina hit fifteen years ago. Buttigieg pointed out that he is a fan of passenger rail, and said that he will be the “second biggest passenger rail enthusiast in this particular administration,” giving a nod to President Biden, who is often referred to as “Amtrak Joe.” And, he accepted Wicker’s invitation.
Buttigieg was also asked if he would work to provide opportunities for rural infrastructure, and agreed there are many rural needs that must be met, including better access to broadband, essential air service, and roads.
Buttigieg said “I will work every day to ensure the department meets its core mission – safety of passengers and workers.” He added there is a lot of work needed on infrastructure, which will both improve the infrastructure and help the economy with the jobs needed for the work.
One bone of contention during the hearing was President Biden’s decision to cancel the Keystone Pipeline. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said the decision immediately eliminates 1,200 good-paying union jobs, and will eliminate thousands more that would have come with the completion of the project. Buttigieg countered that Keystone would cause environmental damage, and that infrastructure and green jobs would more than make up for the Keystone jobs lost.
Cruz also asked whether the Secretary-designate supported the movement of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) by rail, and Buttigieg said safety considerations must take first priority, but he would take a look at the situation. Cruz said he found Buttigieg’s response disconcerting.
As Senate confirmation hearings go, Buttigieg was warmly recieved, and there were no major areas of disagreement, resulting in a hearing that was civil and polite.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told Buttigieg that he was pleased with the hearing in part because “You know what the hell you’re talking about, and that’s pretty damn refreshing.”
There is every expectation that Pete Buttigieg will be confirmed as America’s next Secretary of Transportation.