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Transcript: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on "Face the Nation," March 31, 2024

Buttigieg: "We don't fully know" Baltimore bridge conditions
Pete Buttigieg says "we don't fully know" conditions for Baltimore bridge repair 06:50

The following is a transcript of an interview with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg that aired on March 31, 2024.

ED O'KEEFE: For the latest we're joined by the Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. Mr. Secretary, happy Easter. Thank you for spending part of it with us and good morning.


ED O'KEEFE: Part of the reason we wanted to chat with you is because you know, we have this incident in Baltimore. we've seen parts of planes falling out of the sky, you've described the fact that it's a national crisis, that more than 40,000 people are killed in car accidents each year, we're going to work our way through some of this. But let's begin in Baltimore. How long is it going to take to remove that ship, clear out the debris, and reopen the channel?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: We haven't received a timeline yet. But what I can tell you is the work is now underway, parts of the non-federal channel are already being worked on. And there is a thousand ton capacity lift crane on a barge being put into place now there's another 600 ton crane on its way to back it up. This is going to be a very complex process, there are even now forces acting on that steel. So it takes a lot to make sure that it can be dismantled safely, to make sure that the vessel stays where it is supposed to be and doesn't swing out into the channel. But it has to be done. Because that is the only way to get into most of the Port of Baltimore. And of course, it's important not just to the people in the workers of Baltimore, but to our national supply chains to get that port back up and running as quickly as possible. Then you have the process of getting the bridge back up. That's going to take longer, but that work is already getting underway as well. We've released the first $60 million in emergency relief funding through our department to go toward that work, everything from removing wreckage to design and procurement for the new bridge structure. This is not going to happen overnight. But we're going to help Maryland do it as quickly as they responsibly can.

ED O'KEEFE: And is there any sense of how long it would take to rebuild that bridge?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: We haven't received estimates on that yet either. I can tell you the original bridge took about five years to build. But that doesn't necessarily inform us about the timeline on the reconstruction. A lot goes into how that reconstruction will be designed, how the process is going to work. Right now we don't fully know everything we need to know about the condition of the portions of the bridge that did not collapse. Obviously, that work is underway right now. And a lot of great work under the leadership of Governor Wes Moore by the Maryland DOT. We're backing them up with funding technical assistance, everything else we can do to help.

ED O'KEEFE: To that point about funding, we've heard that it sounds like most of this is going to be paid for by the federal government either about 90%- 80% depending on how it works, the rest by the state. Where's that money going to come from?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: So we're using an authority called the emergency relief. This is through our Federal Highway Administration. That's how we got those first 60 million out and there will be more where that came from. Now it is possible we may need to turn to Congress to supplement that fund. That has happened in the past, if you remember the 2007 bridge collapse in Minnesota, ultimately about $260 million put together, including funds that were put through Congress on a bipartisan basis. And I hope and expect this too will be a bipartisan priority. It's not just the right thing to do for the people of Baltimore. But really important, again, for our whole supply system to make sure that that port and that bridge are operating just the way they were supposed to.

ED O'KEEFE: Well, real quick, you know Congress these days can't get much of anything done. And there seems to be partisan disagreement about even when to go to lunch. So what exactly would be the pitch to any skeptical lawmaker who says why on earth should we have to pay for this?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Well, the pitch is your district could be next. And also this has historically been bipartisan, and I'm not just reaching back to bygone eras. Remember, the infrastructure package itself President Biden's infrastructure plan went through on a bipartisan basis. A lot of people didn't think that was possible when we got here in 2021. But the President never gave up on the idea. And sure enough, a lot of Republicans were willing to cross the aisle, work with President Biden, work with Democrats to get this done. If there's anything left in this country that is more bipartisan than infrastructure, it should be emergency response. This is both and I hope that Congress will be willing if and when we turn to them.

ED O'KEEFE: On another matter. This week, Boeing- or this past week, Boeing announced some big changes in its leadership, the CEO, the Board Chairman, the head of the commercial airplanes unit are all leaving by the end of the year. Are those changes enough to satisfy concerns about the company?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Well, one personnel change or several personnel changes are not the same thing as what we most need to see, which is a change in culture. Whoever takes these new leadership positions and everybody else at Boeing, especially those senior leaders who are accountable for the planes that that Boeing produces, and the work that that company does, they need to demonstrate that they put safety first. FAA has been putting Boeing under a microscope ever since this incident happened in January and frankly, there were a lot of concerns about what the FAA administrator saw in the course of those visits and in the audit. He gave Boeing about 90 days to come up with a comprehensive plan to show that they're on the path to deliver the right kind of quality and safety. We're about 30 days into that. There are regular check-ins and FAA is not going to allow Boeing to increase their production until they demonstrate that they can do it safely. 

ED O'KEEFE: You know, Thursday was the busiest day of the year so far, at least in terms of TSA screenings, because we're seeing an uptick now ahead of spring break. We're in the midst of spring break for a lot of people, but given these aviation incidents: the blown off door on the Alaska Airlines plane, the panel that fell off a Delta flight recently, what would you say to those who are scared to fly right now?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Well, I would say that every time I step onto an airliner, whether I'm going to look at a bridge, or whether I'm flying somewhere with my husband, and kids, like we will be later this week, I know that I'm participating in the safest form of travel in America. And that what makes it the safest - safest form of travel in America is all of the work and all of the people who stand behind that, including the men and women of our FAA. We're talking about an extraordinary safety record. And just think about this mode of travel, it involves being propelled by flammable liquids and a metal tube through the sky at nearly the speed of sound. And again, is the safest way to travel. That is because of extremely rigorous standards and processes for inspection. And that's why so far, since this administration arrived, there have been about 3 billion passengers getting on airplanes in the United States, and 100% of them getting to where they need to go. So we're going to continue doing everything we can holding airlines, aerospace manufacturers, and everybody else accountable. And turning to those flight crews, mechanics, tech workers, everybody who is part of that safety equation, to try to keep it that way.

ED O'KEEFE: You really sold it there metal- metal to flammable liquid flying through the air. But I hear you on this on the safety aspects of this.

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Safest in the world. 

ED O'KEEFE: You know, if the President gets another four years later this year, you're gonna be sticking around?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Again, I'm right now I'm completely focused on doing a good job in the job that I have. I'm humbled and honored that the President asked me to do this work. We knew, even in those early days that we'd be pursuing the biggest infrastructure package, in certainly in my lifetime, we were able to get that through Congress. Now we're out there delivering that. There were other things that we never could have seen coming when President Biden invited me to take on this role, like the Baltimore bridge collapse we're dealing with right now. So I got my head down, hard at work and hoping to do right by the trust that's been placed in me and really proud of the 55,000 people at the Department of Transportation helping us meet that mission every day. 

ED O'KEEFE: I know when a lot of people see you on television these days, they may still think to themselves, "Oh, I wonder if he still wants the big job one day." Now that you've been closer to it, working alongside a president, is it still something you aspire to?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Well, I certainly have a new perspective on just how demanding that job is watching President Biden deal with so many concerns, challenges and opportunities for this country. And I'm proud to be a small part of the big team that helps him get that done. I sincerely don't know what, whether I will run for elected office of any kind again, what I do know is that I've been asked to take on a big job. I'm honored and humbled to do it. It's hard, it's rewarding, and it's taken about 110% of what I have to give right now.

ED O'KEEFE: All right, well, we are honored and humbled you spend part of your Easter with us. Our best to Chasten and the kids and we'll talk again soon.

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Thanks very much. Good being with you.

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