Mayor Pete soon Secretary Pete? Bipartisan senators say yes
Pete Buttigieg, who displayed the political acumen that fueled his rise from civic obscurity to political glory, sailed through a Senate hearing Thursday that was in every way an audition for a possible future presidential turn, as well as his upcoming role as transportation secretary .
Buttigieg, President Joe Biden's election as head of the Department of Transportation, posed slightly shaky questions about politics to both Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee - aside from a stumble on whether he would consider raising the federal gasoline tax. He also appealed to rural state senators, often relying on his experience running a small inland town without the resources that large coastal towns have.
"I recognize that we, especially from a community the size of South Bend, are not among those who have been able to hire full-time staff for federal relations," Buttigieg said, referring to the cumbersome process for the grant of federal grant programs.
His reception at Thursday's hearing suggests an easy path to affirmation. The committee's top Republican, Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, said he was "pretty sure he'll be sustained". Other GOP praises followed, including Indiana Senator Todd Young, who said he had "great respect" for the candidate from his home state.
"They set up a clinic that determines how a candidate should ... act," said Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.). "You didn't avoid the questions. They were straightforward. And you know what the hell you're talking about."
"That's damn refreshing," added Tester.
Buttigieg's first foray into the Senate can be seen as a prelude to a possible future presidential candidacy, which comes against the background of virtually all of the activities he undertakes as a member of President Joe Biden's cabinet. And while most Americans would consider DOT a sleepy agency, it will be more prominent among Biden, who has pledged to heighten climate concerns across all areas of government.
Despite his warm welcome, Buttigieg stumbled upon the federal gas tax's eternal political landmine. Congress has not increased the tax since 1993, leading to growing deficits in the Highway Trust Fund that lawmakers had to fill with deficit spending.
During the hearing, on the question of how to finance American infrastructure, Buttigieg said that "all options must be on the table" - although he added that with the proliferation of fuel efficient and electric cars, sooner or later there will be questions about whether the gas tax can even be effective. "
Afterward, a Buttigieg spokesman told reporters that while "there must be a multitude of options on the table ... an increase in gas tax is not one of them."
On climate change, Buttigieg said DOT is "playing a big role" in Biden's "whole-government approach" to slowing its progress, adding, "this is our chance" to avert a climate crisis "before it's too late ". He easily discussed the need for strict fuel consumption standards and the expansion of the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, which Biden aims to strengthen by building 500,000 charging stations.
Even his one-off rival for Democratic Elementary School, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Had a warm welcome for Buttigieg, including a hint that she and their husbands would soon be having dinner together.
"John and I look forward to seeing you and Chasten in a less formal setting outside of this listening room," she said.
Buttigieg spoke about obscure DOT grant programs, safety statistics, and current trends and laws regarding transportation with no apparent reliance on notes, showing the care that marked his candidacy for president, and praising the senators.
Wicker studied at Harvard and Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar and praised his “impressive credentials” and “intellect”.
Some acidic notes were made at the hearing, mostly focusing on climate issues, particularly related to Biden's decision to cancel the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said, “Thousands of union workers were unemployed on the first day. ”
Without going through the details of the Keystone pipeline himself, Buttigieg insisted that he was "a big fan of the construction industry" and that Biden's climate plan would create "better-paying union jobs."
When Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) grilled it on Keystone, Buttigieg's answer was based on the notion of political heritage, saying that history books will judge lawmakers on “whether we have done enough to avoid the destruction of lives and property stop climate change. ”
Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) Also interviewed Buttigieg on the Green New Deal, which Buttigieg supported during the Democratic presidential primaries. Buttigieg noted that Biden, not him, had won the election and that it would be Biden's climate vision that was moving forward.
He comes into office with a much higher profile than any other transport ministry candidate, along with a dedicated following of Twitter followers who stick to every word and have delved into transport policy. After his hearing, #TeamPete members tweeted, "We love our nerdy politics wonk" and "The world leans on why we love Pete so much."
It's a dynamic that has not escaped the notice of the senators responsible for reviewing his nomination on Thursday. Wicker teased Buttigieg about his recent TV appearances, saying, “You were on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon last night and the Morning Joe Show this morning. How is it, in terms of exciting experiences, to compare with this committee? "
"I would characterize this as a unique experience," replied Buttigieg.
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