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Buttigieg calls for major infrastructure investment at Senate confirmation hearing

Pete Buttigieg, President Biden's nominee to lead the Transportation Department, fielded questions from the Senate Commerce Committee on a wide range of topics including infrastructure, the airline industry, Amtrak, regulations and federal funding in his confirmation hearing Thursday.

If confirmed, he's likely to be among those tasked with trying to convince Congress to pass a major infrastructure plan that would also help spur job growth. The nation's infrastructure has been crumbling, Republicans and Democrats agree, but there's been no major legislation passed on funding an infrastructure overhaul in recent years.

"Now is the time, and we have a real chance to deliver for the American people," Buttigieg said in his prepared opening remarks. "We need to build our economy back, better than ever, and the Department of Transportation can play a central role in this, by implementing President Biden's infrastructure vision."

Buttigieg pointed out that it's states, counties and local governments that are expected to maintain roads and bridges, but they lack resources.

"It's another example of how we need major and significant investment as a safety concern to enhance, upgrade and maintain bridges and other key infrastructure assets across the country," he said, in response to questioning by Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.

The young former presidential candidate impressed Democrats and Republicans alike with his testimony.

"I'm quite certain he will be confirmed," Republican committee chairman Senator Roger Wicker said during the hearing.

Montana Senator Jon Tester, a fellow Democrat, raved, "You have put on a clinic on how a nominee should act. You haven't avoided questions," he said, adding, "and you know what the heck you're talking about. And that's refreshing."

If confirmed, Buttigieg would oversee a department that requested $89 billion for the 2021 fiscal year.

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, brought up his experience dealing with infrastructure and transportation issues as mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He also highlighted that his experience as mayor would help guide him as he approaches transportation issues and funding for the department.  

"As a mayor from the industrial Midwest, I will bring a bottom-up perspective on transportation programs and funding," Buttigieg said in his opening remarks. "If confirmed, I look forward to working with our partners at the state, local, territorial, and tribal levels to find solutions to our infrastructure issues while we also prepare for the future of transportation at a time of great change."  

In his prepared opening testimony, Buttigieg mentioned that effective transportation policy can help people achieve the American Dream, but he said that he is also aware that "misguided policies and missed opportunities in transportation can reinforce racial and economic inequality, by dividing or isolating neighborhoods and undermining government's basic role of empowering Americans to thrive." 

After Mr. Biden announced Buttigieg's nomination, there were early signals of bipartisan support for Buttigieg. In a statement from December 15, Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana, who sits on the Commerce Committee, said, "As a former city leader here in Indiana, Pete understands how critical infrastructure is to growth and opportunity. It will be good to have a Hoosier serving in this capacity." 

When running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Buttigieg occasionally admitted that he thought the Trump administration would enact infrastructure reform, citing the potential job growth from an infrastructure package. In addition, Buttigieg, when talking about infrastructure on the 2020 campaign trail, also frequently advocated for the U.S. to increase investments not only in bridges, railways and roads, but also in implementing better infrastructure to provide clean, safe water.  

Buttigieg is the latest of Mr. Biden's Cabinet picks to testify before Senate committees. If confirmed, he will be the first openly LGBTQ Cabinet member to be confirmed by the Senate. He introduced his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, who attended the hearing, to the committee during his opening remarks.

"I want to thank him for his many sacrifices and his support in making it possible for me to pursue public service," the nominee said. 

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