Buttigieg Confirmation Hearing Set for January 21

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has set a date for a confirmation hearing for South Bend, Indiana mayor (and former presidential candidate) Pete Buttigieg to be U.S. Secretary of Transportation. The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Thursday, January 21.

Has Buttigieg had time to learn all that he needs to know about being Secretary of Transportation? Of course not. But these hearings aren’t about his knowing everything. It’s about him figuring out which specific issues are important to which members of the Senate committee. And they will already have told him the answers to most of those questions during their individual meetings that have already been ongoing.

Buttigieg will be expected to tell the short version of his life story and why transportation is so important to him and to the nation (which he has already done, when Biden announced his nomination) and add some boilerplate about priorities that he will have cleared with the transition staff. Then he will have to listen to each member of the committee tell him about what is important to their state and promise to work with them to address those issues (preferably accompanied by a visit to the state – Dan Sullivan will almost certainly extract a promise to come to Alaska, Brian Schatz to Hawaii, etc etc).

One can also expect a lot of Amtrak love, what with Buttigieg’s fondness for the railroad and the bipartisan support for the passenger railroad on that committee. And he can discuss which of the easily-reversible Trump Administration policies he would reverse quickly in his tenure.

Beyond that, since President-elect Biden said last night that he will be unveiling some of his infrastructure plan at his State of the Union address in February (not before), don’t expect any real details about forthcoming policy proposals. This hearing isn’t about that – it is about getting Buttigieg on the record early about his willingness to work with the Senate committee and to prioritize the top issues of that committee’s members above most other priorities of other members of Congress.

Unless something goes drastically wrong (and rarely does, at the Cabinet level in a new President’s opening round of nominations, though there were Tom Daschle’s back taxes and John Tower’s behavior issues), this should put Buttigieg on track to be confirmed by the end of the month.

The online Senate nominations database only goes back to 1981, but here are the initial SecDOT nominations of each first-term president starting with Reagan, and the rapidity of their hearings and of their Senate confirmation votes.

Hearing Confirmed
Reagan 1981 Drew Lewis Jan 7 Jan 22
Bush 1989 Sam Skinner Jan 25 Jan 31
Clinton 1993 Federico Pena Jan 7 Jan 21
Bush 2001 Norm Mineta Jan 24 Jan 24
Obama 2009 Ray LaHood Jan 21 Jan 22
Trump 2017 Elaine Chao Jan 24 Jan 31

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