Pete Buttigieg, US Secretary of Transportation: “We need Republicans to come to their senses” | International
“We need Republicans to come to their senses,” reconcile among themselves and restore the functioning of the House of Representatives, emphasizes Pete Buttigieg. The Secretary of Transportation of the US Government, at 41 years old one of the great references for a new generation of Democratic leaders, speaks by videoconference with EL PAÍS from his office, a day after the serious internal fight in the opposition party has left the US House of Representatives without a president and with its management paralyzed. He maintains a smile throughout the entire conversation, although the paralysis in Congress complicates things for the Administration: time is running out to approve new budget funds and assistance to Ukraine.
“It cannot be that every time someone does not get what they want it causes a crisis,” says the politician. “Leaving this season of chaos behind is something that is in the best interest of all of us, Democrats, Republicans and, above all, Americans. But only the Republicans can do it, because it is their majority that seems incapable of reaching an agreement with itself,” he adds about the expulsion of Kevin MacCarthy from the presidency by a motion from the hard wing of the Republicans, sitting before a display of photos relatives, especially Joseph Gus August and Penelope Rose, the two-year-old twins she has with her husband, Chasten.
This Democrat, war veteran and polyglot - he speaks eight languages, from Spanish to Afghan Dari, including Norwegian and Maltese - jumped to the front line of American politics in 2019. Until then, the mayor of South Bend, a city of 100,000 inhabitants in Indiana, in the American Midwest, then announced his candidacy for the White House.
The campaign of the first openly gay candidate was short but intense. His centrist message, his ease with words and his impeccable image earned him comparisons with Barack Obama, the great pole star of the Democratic Party, and promising results in the debut of the primaries. But he failed to make his way among the minorities, one of the large blocks of the Democratic vote. He dropped out after a tough setback in North Carolina. But by then he had already caught the attention of the Democratic hierarchies: party gurus like David Axelrod, Obama's former advisor, were full of praise for him.
In 2021, the winner of the elections, Joe Biden, incorporated him into his Administration as Secretary of Transportation. An attractive position for a politician who had become popular in South Bend with measures such as the construction of pedestrian zones.
In his current position, his oratory has placed him as one of the spokespersons to whom the White House turns most frequently to defend its staunch arguments. The Infrastructure Investment Law, worth two trillion dollars (almost 1.9 trillion euros) and one of the great achievements of the Biden Administration, has made him a key member of the Administration. He manages an enormous budget: of the 660,000 million dollars over five years that the law allocates to Transportation, some 126,000 correspond to new investments.
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In the conversation, he focuses on presenting the Democratic Party and the Biden Administration as the responsible formation, the political adults who insist on governing and carrying out measures in the face of the chaos in which the Republicans are plunged due to their internal divisions.
After the dismissal of the president of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, forced by disagreements among the Republicans of that institution over the budget extension until November 17 that avoided the so-called government shutdown last weekend, that bench is embroiled in a bitter internal dispute to name a replacement. A dispute in which former President Donald Trump himself has intervened to propose himself as interim leader of the House until the group finds a consensus candidate.
“You watch television and what you see is the chaos generated in the Republican caucus in the House. We are not happy about that negative situation. “We are trying to do our job, build roads, fix bridges, and our task is complicated by the uncertainty and drama emanating from the Republican group,” he explains.
With the House in abeyance until the appointment of another speaker, the clock is ticking to pass another appropriations measure before the temporary budget agreement expires. The precedents are not very encouraging: it took 15 rounds of voting for the Republican majority to approve McCarthy's candidacy. If delays accumulate, the threat of a government shutdown would loom again. At the worst of times for the average American: in the week before Thanksgiving (November 23), a holiday much more important than Christmas and a time when millions of Americans travel to meet their loved ones. families.
That possibility would especially affect the Department of Transportation. Buttigieg notes that, among other things, they could be forced to “shut down air traffic control towers across the United States” on key dates. “It would also have devastating effects beyond Transportation.” Analysts estimate that nearly four million federal officials would not be paid until the deadlock was resolved, including one million military personnel. Air traffic controllers and transportation security are considered essential workers, but Trump's December 2018 shutdown caused travel delays for five weeks when those employees began taking sick leave.
Some Democratic strategists have highlighted the possibility that the radical wing, although a minority within the Republican caucus, forces the rest of the party to appoint a harder-line legislator than McCarthy to head the House. A possibility that the Secretary of Transportation warns against: “We have already seen the damage and disruption that a few members of the radical Republican right in Congress can cause. Giving them more power is a recipe for bigger problems.”
"There is no time to lose. And there is no reason to wait until the day before November 17 to pass a funding resolution for the Government,” urges Buttigieg. “We are going to continue doing our job. But Congress also has to do its part, and we need Republicans to make peace with each other, appoint a speaker of the House and get to work on real priorities.” Meanwhile, he reiterates the Democratic message: "We will continue working to protect priorities - jobs, proper functioning of services - from the noise, chaos and drama that come from the extreme positions among the Republican Party in the House."
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