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Senate Confirms Neophyte Buttigieg as Transportation Secretary

'Fixing municipal potholes and managing bus routes in no way equates to what he will oversee at DOT...'

(Headline USA) Pete Buttigieg won Senate approval Tuesday as transportation secretary. Without any managerial experience of any level of a bureaucracy, he’ll be tasked with advancing President Joe Biden’s ambitious agenda of rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and fighting so-called climate change.

Buttigieg, a 39-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Biden’s one-time rival during the Democratic presidential primaries, was approved on a 86-13 vote.

“I’m honored and humbled by today’s vote in the Senate—and 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 America’s transportation networks as airlines, buses, city subway systems and Amtrak reel from plummeting ridership in the coronavirus pandemic.

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“Pete Buttigieg lacks the experience necessary to oversee the U.S. Department of Transportation,” said Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas. “Fixing municipal potholes and managing bus routes in no way equates to what he will oversee at DOT.”

He is expected to play an important role in promoting Biden’s Green New Deal, helping to oversee stronger automotive fuel economy standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support the president’s 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.

“It is troubling that (he) has openly talked about using his post as a pulpit for social agenda items and supports the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline, a move that will drive up the price of gas at the pump, cost thousands of jobs, crush our energy industry and put our country back on a path to dependence on foreign oil,” Marshall said. “Instead of eradicating American energy workers through government decree, the Biden Administration should take steps to grow our economy and continue down the path of American energy independence and economic recovery.”

Speaking on the Senate floor before the vote, Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, the incoming chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, praised Buttigieg’s 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.”

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“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 America’s future,” she said. “He’s 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 nation’s roads and bridges, rails and airports, questioning in particular the administration’s 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 hasn’t indicated how he intends to pay for an infrastructure plan, coming on top of the administration’s proposed $1.9 trillion virus relief plan that has met some headwinds in Congress. Buttigieg’s 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.

Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.

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