- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 27, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) - A Senate panel on Wednesday easily advanced President Joe Biden’s nomination of Pete Buttigieg to be transportation secretary, setting up a final confirmation vote for a key role in Biden’s push to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and confront climate change.

The Commerce Committee approved the nomination of Buttigieg, a 39-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, on a 21-3 vote.

His nomination now heads to the full Senate, where a vote could happen as early as this week. He would be the first openly gay person, and one of the youngest, confirmed by the Senate to a Cabinet post.

Biden has been urging the Senate, where Democrats hold a bare majority, to move quickly on his Cabinet picks given the current COVID-19 crisis. He signed an executive order mandating masks on airplanes and in public transportation to help stem the spread of the deadly virus. Biden has also pledged an ambitious agenda of job growth, fighting climate change and promoting racial equity - goals he underscored Wednesday in signing sweeping executive orders to stem climate change.

A major step, Biden said, will be to implement tough new federal automotive fuel economy standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions after the Trump administration loosened the requirements. The Biden administration also wants to promote the use of electric vehicles by installing 500,000 new charging stations across the country, which would require new money from Congress. The federal government’s switch under Wednesday’s order to an all-electric federal vehicle fleet would create 1 million new jobs in the auto industry, Biden said.

“It’s not time for small measures,” he said. “We need to be bold.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell, the panel’s incoming Democratic chair, praised Buttigieg’s credentials before the vote Wednesday and urged quick confirmation so he can get to work. “He understands what all of us have to deal with on transportation and infrastructure,” Cantwell said.

With the transportation sector, particularly car emissions, a top contributor in the United States to global warming, Buttigieg, a former Democratic presidential rival whom Biden praised as bringing “a new voice,” is expected to play an important role in the climate agenda. Advocates hope his public stature and loyal following from the 2020 campaign could help win over lawmakers and push through broad infrastructure changes long unachievable on Capitol Hill.

Buttigieg, in a tweet, thanked the members of the Commerce Committee for “their vote of confidence in me” on Wednesday. He said he looked forward to teaming with members of the committee “as we get to work on infrastructure and building our economy back better.”

At his confirmation hearing last week, Buttigieg received bipartisan praise as he pledged an immediate focus on transportation safety while pointing to a “generational” opportunity to help remake how people travel.

Republican senators during his hearing signaled future battles ahead over the cost and scope of updating the nation’s roads and bridges, rails and airports, a broad goal that eluded former President Donald Trump the last four years, but they said they looked forward to many discussions with Buttigieg.

Voting against Buttigieg on Wednesday were three Republican senators: Ted Cruz of Texas and Rick Scott of Florida, two possible presidential contenders in 2024, as well as Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.

Biden has said he will unveil the full details of his infrastructure plan next month.

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