No big potholes for Biden transport pick Pete Buttigieg in historic US Senate hearing

Pete Buttigieg speaks to the press after a confirmation hearing at the Senate in Washington.
Pete Buttigieg speaks to the press after a confirmation hearing at the Senate in Washington.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Transportation Secretary nominee Pete Buttigieg appeared poised for Senate confirmation on Thursday (Jan 21) following a low-key hearing focused more on pet infrastructure projects in the 50 US states than hot-button political topics.

Buttigieg, the first openly gay person tapped for a US Cabinet post, faced a handful of thorny questions from Republicans on climate change and other topics.

But Buttigieg, who emerged as a breakout star of the 2020 Democratic presidential campaign before dropping out and endorsing President Joe Biden, parried those questions and ably bantered with senators for most of the two-and-half hour hearing.

Senators generally were friendly to Buttigieg, with several Democratic members also speaking fondly of his husband, Chasten Buttigieg.

Most panel members - including several Republicans - used their time to put highway, rail and bridge projects in their states on the nominee's radar.

Buttigieg committed to visits to at least three states, Mississippi, Alaska and Massachusetts, following invitations from senators from those states.

But the session was not a complete love-fest.

Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska, blasted Biden's announcement Wednesday to scrap the Keystone XL pipeline and pressed the nominee about the hit to jobs.

Buttigieg noted Biden had promised the action during the presidential campaign and argued other Biden climate policies to expand green energy and build out electric car powering stations would more than offset the employment hit.

"I believe the president's climate vision will create more jobs" than the number affected by Keystone, Buttigieg said.

"We cannot afford not to act on climate," Buttigieg said. "The question is how we can do that in a way that creates economic opportunity in the short-term while preventing disaster in the long-term."

Pressed by Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, over hiking gasoline taxes to address the shortfall in the highway trust funding, Buttigieg said "all options have to be on the table," adding that the Biden team had not settled on hiking taxes.

Several Republicans, including the party's senior senator on the panel, Mississippi's Roger Wicker, signalled support for Buttigieg or that they expected him to win confirmation.