Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg backs Biden’s infrastructure bill, says ‘we’re still coasting on infrastructure choices’ from the 1950s

Pete Buttigieg
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg at a press conference in February.

  • Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg is helping rally support for Biden’s infrastructure plan.
  • Buttigieg said on Sunday the American Jobs Plan represented “a generational investment.”
  • The plan aims for upgrades in everything from roads and bridges to public schools and airports.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

US Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg on Sunday promoted President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan, making the case that the legislation would be transformational for the country.

During an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Buttigieg said the American Jobs Plan represented “a generational investment” that would produce “economic growth that’s going to go on for years and years.”

“Infrastructure is the foundation that makes it possible for Americans to thrive,” he said. “And what we know is that foundation has been crumbling.

Buttigieg made the argument that the current transportation network, built up decades ago, has to meet the needs of a modern society.

“We’re still coasting on infrastructure choices that were made in the 1950s,” he said. “Now’s our chance to make infrastructure choices for the future that are going to serve us well in the 2030s and onto the middle of the century when we will be judged for whether we meet this moment here in the 2020s.”

Biden’s massive plan includes $621 billion in transportation infrastructure investments, with direct funding for road and bridge repairs, improvements in Amtrak passenger train service, lead pipe repairs, port and airport funding, and public school improvements, among other long-awaited projects.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California is seeking to have a bill passed sometime in July, but the legislation’s fate also rests in the hands of the Senate, which the party only narrowly controls.

While Biden is seeking Republican input on the bill, Democrats have not ruled out passing an infrastructure package through the reconciliation process, which would only require a party-line vote.

Read more: Here are 9 hurdles Biden’s infrastructure plan would have to overcome in Congress before it can become law

In order to pay for the plan, Biden hopes to raise the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent, which congressional Republicans vehemently oppose.

GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky last week said that in its current form, Biden’s infrastructure bill will be a hard sell for his caucus, especially if it is funded with “a combination of massive tax increases on businesses and individuals, and more borrowing.”

“I think that package they’re putting together now, as much as we would like to address infrastructure, is not going to get support from our side,” he said.

GOP Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said on ABC’s “This Week” earlier on Sunday that a smaller infrastructure bill could be “a bipartisan, easy win” for the president.

“The other 70 or so percent of the package that doesn’t have very much to do with infrastructure, if you want to force that in a partisan way, you can still do that,” he added.

Buttigieg, along with Housing and Urban Development secretary Marcia Fudge, Energy secretary Jennifer Granholm, Commerce secretary Gina Raimondo, and Labor secretary Marty Walsh, have been tasked with helping rally support behind the plan.

Buttigieg emphasized during the Sunday interview that Biden’s plan would not only repair aging US transportation networks, but would strengthen the country’s economic standing and position it as a leader on climate change.

“America will be much more economically competitive, we’ll be stronger in terms of leading the world because of the research and development investments that are here, and we will be on track to avoid climate disaster because of the provisions for things like electric vehicles,” he said.

He added: “Those electric vehicles that more and more people around the world are driving will be increasingly made in America by union workers. This is what you get for planning for the long term.”

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A major Texas highway expansion project has been paused to examine possible violation of 1964 Civil Rights Act

Houston
People drive on Interstate 45 toward downtown Houston.

  • The Department of Transportation has paused a Houston-area highway widening project.
  • In the past, highways were constructed with no regard for minority communities.
  • The Biden administration is seeking to address past racial inequities in planning decisions.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Department of Transportation is using a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to pause construction on a highway widening project near Houston, an uncommon move that could be an early test of President Joe Biden’s commitment to addressing past racial inequities, according to Politico.

As the populous region continues to grow, the Interstate 45 highway project has been heralded as a way to reduce congestion and improve commute times, but the additional lanes would also impact several heavily Black and Latino neighborhoods, forcing residents, businesses, and houses of worship in the path to relocate.

The construction plan, known as the North Houston Highway Improvement Project, would widen the highway into three segments.

Local resistance to the I-45 project had been brewing for years, with many hearkening back to the 1950s when freeway routes were deliberately drawn to impact Black communities and divide people by race and class.

The I-45 project has at least been temporarily halted, with Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg now at the helm of the sprawling federal department.

Federal transportation authorities in March sent a letter asking Texas to pause contracts on the widening project while they reviewed racial justice complaints covered by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, along with environmental concerns.

The provision states that “no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Read more: Here are 9 hurdles Biden’s infrastructure plan would have to overcome in Congress before it can become law

In a letter written to the Texas Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration cited community opposition in reviewing the I-45 widening project, mentioning Houston-area Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Air Alliance Houston, and the community organization Texas Housers.

“I think [Buttigieg] was engaged, interested and fair,” Jackson Lee told Politico after speaking with the secretary. “I think he was chagrined at federal dollars being used with such disregard of community views.”

The congresswoman feels that the Texas Department of Transportation “blatantly violated” the Title VI provision.

The project’s pause, which is being driven by civil rights laws, has thrilled grassroots activists and Washington figures.

Fred Wagner, an attorney and former chief counsel at the Federal Highway Administration under the Obama administration, told Politico that taking such a step was a big change.

“It just doesn’t happen very often,” he said. “For DOT to step in, potentially, and say ‘We don’t think it’s an appropriate solution,’ would be a really huge deal.”

Buttigieg, who is seeking to reimagine the country’s transportation system, also hopes to dismantle old processes that disenfranchised Americans of color from past planning conversations, especially when entire neighborhoods were destroyed by urban planners when the modern US highway network was first built in the 20th Century.

“This is not just a matter of halfway accidental neglect,” he said in a Politico interview last month. “We’re talking about some really intentional decisions that happened, and a lot of them happened with federal dollars.”

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Watchdog says Elaine Chao, ex-transpo secretary and Mitch McConnell’s wife, misused office including making staff edit her dad’s Wikipedia page

mitch mcconnell elaine chao republican biden inauguration dc capitol
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) and former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao (L).

  • Former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao was cited by the IG for misusing her office for personal tasks.
  • A report released Wednesday claims Chao used staff to do tasks for her father and her family’s business.
  • Chao resigned from her position on January 7, one day after the insurrection at the US Capitol.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Elaine Chao, the former transportation secretary under Trump and wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, was cited by the Inspector General for misuse of office, according to a report that went public Wednesday.

Late last year, the Transportation Department’s inspector general requested the Justice Department and US Attorney’s Office investigate “potential conflicts of interest and favoritism” involving Chao, but both departments declined to open an investigation, according to the report.

Investigators found that Chao had used her office’s staff and resources to support her family’s business, including helping with tasks for her father – such as editing his Wikipedia page and promoting his Chinese-language biography, “Fearless Against the Wind.”

“For example, in August 2017, the Secretary directed two OST staffers to send a copy of ‘Fearless Against the Wind’ to a well-known CEO of a major US corporation (which is not regulated by DOT) along with a letter
requesting that he write a foreword for the book and a sample foreword,” the report detailed, adding that another staffer was tasked with editing the sample foreword.

Chao also directed her staff to purchase personal items for her using her personal credit card and tasked them with researching free shipping and coupon codes, according to the report.

Staff were also assigned to arrange a trip to China in November 2017 for her father James Chao and his “delegation,” comprised of the former secretary’s younger sister Angela Chao and Angela’s husband. The trip was later canceled shortly before Elaine Chao’s departure amid ethics concerns raised by news reports at the time.

Chao resigned from her position on January 7, one day after the violent insurrection at the US Capitol.

“Yesterday, our country experienced a traumatic and entirely avoidable event as supporters of the President stormed the Capitol building following a rally he addressed,” she said in a statement. “As I’m sure is the case with many of you, it has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.”

“Today, I am announcing my resignation as US Secretary of Transportation,” the statement said. “We will help my announced successor Mayor Pete Buttigieg with taking on the responsibility of running this wonderful department.”

An aide to the former transportation secretary told The Times at the time that her departure from the administration was not related to the investigation by the inspector general, according to a report from The New York Times.

McConnell’s office declined to respond.

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