Senate Commerce Committee leaders Thursday welcomed Peter "Pete" Buttigieg, President Joe Biden’s nominee to become the next Transportation Secretary, with chairman Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) opening his confirmation hearing saying he was "quite certain" of full Senate approval.
Wicker, who continued to chair the committee in absence of a final power-sharing agreement between the Republican and Democrat leaders, praised the selection of the former South Bend, Indiana mayor and U.S. Navy Reserve intelligence officer for the post, saying he has “impressive credentials” with “valuable perspective” from a local level. He also credited the former secretary, Elaine Chao, for her “professional and principled manner” in the way she directed the department.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), who is anticipated to become chair of the Commerce Committee, echoed both of those sentiments and highlighted Buttigieg’s vision in leadership, pointing to his Smart Streets initiative that involved public-private partnerships to create two-way traffic patterns to make the road safer and more efficient and better accommodate motorists, transit riders, cyclists, and pedestrians.
In his testimony, Buttigieg emphasized the need for infrastructure investment and support, as well as maintaining safety. He called infrastructure investment “part and parcel” of economic recovery and said given the support of the committee, administration, and public, there’s “a historic opportunity in terms of support…to make those kinds of investments” for all modes of transportation, including future modes.
When asked by Cantwell about whether he would ensure that FAA reforms mandated by Congress remain a priority, he said, “I’m committed to doing so…we need to make sure the engineers at the FAA are in the driver’s seat.” When asked, Buttigieg further said he would be willing to make changes in personnel, if necessary.
Cantwell additionally stressed the importance of aviation manufacturing support and asked him to keep workforce support programs as a priority as well. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), meanwhile, asked Buttigieg to work with him to upgrade his state’s airport infrastructure and asked to help with easing permitting on projects such as runways.
In his testimony, Buttigieg had highlighted safety: “Safety is the foundation of the department’s mission, and it takes on new meaning amid this pandemic. We must ensure all of our transportation systems—from aviation to public transit, to our railways, roads, ports, waterways, and pipelines—are managed safely during this critical period, as we work to defeat the virus.”
The Biden transition team announced plans to select the former U.S. Navy Reserve intelligence offer and South Bend, Indiana mayor for the post on December 15, saying, “South Bend was once called one of America’s dying cities. Today, it’s a hub of innovation and job growth. Mayor Pete Buttigieg led that resurgence.”
Biden added that Buttigieg would keep the roads, railways, and skies safe. “Pete will help us build back better with jobs and hope, with vision and execution.” Buttigieg had responded to the nomination, calling it a “moment of tremendous opportunity—to create jobs, meet the climate challenge, and enhance equity for all.”
Buttigieg, who served two terms as mayor, had run for President but dropped out on March 1, 2020, and then endorsed Biden. He is a Harvard University graduate and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. While serving in the Navy Reserve, he achieved the rank of lieutenant and had taken leave from his mayoral duties to serve seven months in the war in Afghanistan. He also worked on several Democrat campaigns, including the presidential campaign of former Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry.