Pete Buttigieg was lauded for his performance at his confirmation hearing at which he appears to have gained bipartisan support from committee members.
Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana effusively praised Mr Buttigieg for his preparation and the detailed policy knowledge he demonstrated: “You have put on a clinic on how a nominee should work and act.”
Were Mr Buttigieg’s nomination by Joe Biden to lead the Department of Transportation to be approved, he would be the first openly gay man to be confirmed by the Senate to a cabinet post. Former President Donald Trump’s acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell was also openly gay, but was never confirmed to his post by the Senate.
The former presidential candidate and former mayor of South Bend, Indiana began his introductory statement by introducing his husband, Chasten, at the largely convivial hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
“I'd like to take a moment to introduce my husband, Chasten Buttigieg, who's here with me today. I'm really proud to have him by my side. I also want to take this chance to thank him for his many sacrifices and his support in making it possible for me to pursue public service,” he said.
In his testimony covering a wide range of transportation and infrastructure policy issues, Mr Buttigieg said that the administration’s ambitious agenda was a “generational opportunity” to create new jobs, fight economic inequality and stem climate change. He also highlighted the importance of safety as the foundation of the department’s work.
“[There is] a lot of work to do to improve the infrastructure in this country, a mission that will not only keep more people safe, but also grow our economy as we look to the future,” the former mayor said.
Placing the Department of Transportation at the centre of this vision of infrastructure development laid out by the new president, Mr Buttigieg linked it directly to creating millions of well-paying jobs and revitalising communities that have been left behind.
He added that it also enables American small businesses, workers, families, and farmers to compete and win in the global economy, and plays a role in tackling the climate crisis.
“Infrastructure can be the cornerstone to all of this, and you have my commitment that I will work closely with you to deliver the innovation and growth that America needs in this area,” said Mr Buttigieg.
The former mayor touted his own experience in South Bend to his understanding of the importance of infrastructure in spurring economic growth and revitalisation, while engaging stakeholders and tapping new resources to solve problems.
During questioning by committee members, Mr Buttigieg said: “This is our opportunity to do the building in ‘Build Back Better’. Every part of our transportation infrastructure needs massive investment. We have a historic opportunity to put together the resources to make those kinds of investments.”
Asked how the Biden administration plans to pay for bigger infrastructure investment, the former mayor said that the answer depends in part on the nature of the post-Covid economic recovery. He confirmed that critical federal investment in infrastructure is vital.
The only hostile question came from Senator Ted Cruz, who raised the disconnect between the Biden administration halting the Keystone XL pipeline and its stated mission to create jobs.
The unflappable nominee responded with an entreaty to cooperate to create jobs: “If you and I can make common cause for labour, then I think that’s great news”.
Committee chair Roger Wicker began by asking if Mr Buttigieg would commit to helping him restore Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast – absent since Hurricane Katrina more than 15 years ago.
Saying that he would, Mr Buttigieg also referenced the new president’s love of Amtrak: “I think as you know I'm the second biggest train enthusiast in this administration. I think Americans ought to enjoy the highest levels of passenger rail service.”
Amy Klobuchar, who sits on the committee, greeted her former presidential campaign rival, saying: “I think you know I’m excited about your nomination … I know you well, and I can attest to my colleagues what a forward-thinking and thoughtful secretary you will be.”
The senator had earlier tweeted that Mr Buttigieg has strong bipartisan support, and committee members of both parties seemed impressed by the breadth and depth of his knowledge throughout the hearing.