WASHINGTON – Pete Buttigieg, President Joe Biden’s nominee to the lead the Department of Transportation, met a favorable reception and drew praise from both sides of the aisle Thursday on Capitol Hill Thursday his confirmation hearing before a key Senate panel.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said Buttigieg “put on a clinic on how a nominee should work and act,” lauding his straightforward answers to senators’ questions.
And in a nod to bipartisanship, Buttigieg’s fellow Hoosier, Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., introduced him to the Senate Commerce Committee. Praising Buttigieg’s background in Indiana, Young said he would “look forward to working with him” to improve the nation’s infrastructure.
Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, fielded questions from senators on myriad of transportation-related issues and the rebuilding of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Several senators asked Buttigieg about infrastructure projects important to their states or regions.
“I’ve heard this loud and clear from you and your colleagues in the region,” Buttigieg told Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who had asked about the status of the Gateway Project, a huge project to replace aging rail infrastructure on the nation’s busiest passenger rail corridor.
Buttigieg faces challenges as secretary to both safeguard the nation’s transportation networks against COVID-19 and to implement Biden’s ambitious infrastructure plan if Congress passes it.
The Department of Transportation distributes billions of dollars in federal highway funding and regulates aviation, railroads and busing. Biden’s infrastructure and clean energy plan has proposed placing 500,000 charging stations along highways and changing federal vehicles to electric power. And on Thursday, Biden is expected to sign an executive order requiring the wearing of face masks in airports, on certain public transportation, and on many trains, planes, and buses.
Buttigieg told senators his background as a mayor gave him a “bottom-up perspective on transportation programs and funding,” reflecting on infrastructure programs he had administered in the city like the revitalization of the city’s downtown and the revamping of its train system and airport.
He was asked by several Republican senators how the federal government would pay for billions in proposed infrastructure spending, and Buttigieg told them the financing would depend on how the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In what was likely a first for a Cabinet confirmation hearing, Buttigieg introduced his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, whom he thanked for his “many sacrifices” and support. If confirmed, Buttigieg would be the first openly gay Cabinet secretary confirmed by the Senate. Former President Donald Trump’s acting director of national intelligence, Ric Grenell, was the first openly gay Cabinet-level official, but Grenell was never confirmed by the Senate.
Buttigieg was the nation’s youngest mayor of a city South Bend’s size or larger when he took office in 2012. He envisioned his hometown as a “beta city,” the perfect size to use his data-driven background with the consulting firm McKinsey to test big ideas. That included the “smart sewers” that saved South Bend an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars and became a template for a product now sold to cities all over the world.
In 2018, South Bend beat out more than 300 other cities for a Bloomberg Mayor’s challenge grant to expand a ride share service the city piloted.
Contributing: Maureen Groppe, Bart Jansen and Matthew Brown
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Buttigieg gets favorable reception in confirmation hearing for transportation secretary role