The U.S. Senate confirmed Pete Buttigieg as Transportation secretary today, making the former Midwest mayor the first openly gay cabinet member approved by the chamber and putting him in a key role to help the Biden administration meet ambitious climate and Covid goals.
Buttigieg, a military veteran and former South Bend, Indiana, mayor who gained national attention in an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, was approved by a Senate vote of 86-13.
Buttigieg becomes the first openly gay cabinet member confirmed by the Senate. During the Trump administration, Richard Grenell served as acting director of national intelligence in 2020 but was never confirmed by the Senate.
Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Institute, hailed the historic nature of Buttigieg’s Senate confirmation.
“Pete shattered a centuries-old political barrier with overwhelming bipartisan support and that paves the way for more LGBTQ Americans to pursue high-profile appointments,” Parker said in a statement on the eve of the vote. “Pete testifying at his confirmation hearing, with his husband looking on, will be among the powerful images that define this unprecedented political moment and will be remembered as a milestone in America’s move toward social justice.”
Buttigieg, 39, will face challenges at the helm of the agency as the transportation sector has been battered during the Covid-19 pandemic with air travel restrictions in place and ridership down on public transportation as people are instructed to work from home. During his Senate confirmation hearing Jan. 21, Buttigieg vowed to make safety on public transportion one of his top priorities.
He also pledged to help work toward the Biden administration’s climate change goals through revamping federal auto emission policies, and to work with lawmakers on infrastructure projects, such as the proposed Gateway rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey.
“Safety is the foundation of the department’s mission, and that takes on new meaning amid this pandemic,” Buttigieg said at his hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
“We have to ensure all of our transportation systems — our aviation and public transits, our railways, our railways, roads, ports, our waterways, and pipelines — all of it is managed safely during this critical period,” he said.
Buttigieg will become the 19th secretary since the Transportation Department was created in 1966. He will oversee an agency with a budget of almost $90 billion, the majority of which pays for building roads, bridges and other highway infrastructure. The DOT also manages multiple agencies that regulate aviation, railroads, trucking and pipeline safety.
The position is pivotal to Biden administration’s attempt to expand infrastructure spending, revamp gas mileage rules for cars and boost investment in electric car technology, as some Democrats are seeking. Already, the Biden administration has promised to switch the 645,000-car federal vehicle switch to electric cars.
Buttigieg pledged to work with lawmakers on the $11 billion Gateway project, as the new Democratic majority in the Senate is thought to have brightened the outlook for the long-planned rail tunnel.
The Transportation Department also is among the federal agencies likely to play a significant role in helping fight the coronavirus pandemic. The Biden administration has implemented a mask mandate for interstate travel that the transportation department will have to enforce. In addition, the department could be charged with helping struggling airlines and transit systems recover from dramatic drops in passengers.
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