In the first-ever TikTok interview with a member of President Biden’s Cabinet, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Yahoo News that his role in helping promote the administration’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan is an “incredible opportunity.”
“I love my job, and being able to work on things that are this important and I think are going to matter for the rest of my life … is an incredible opportunity,” Buttigieg said Sunday.
But the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and presidential candidate also admitted that he longed to get out of Washington.
“It’s driving me nuts to be behind a desk so much,” Buttigieg said, while acknowledging the importance of following coronavirus safety protocols. “As it becomes safe to get out on the road, that’s going to be a big part of my day.”
Buttigieg spoke to Yahoo News on a wide range of topics, including the specifics of the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan, U.S. competition with China, the growing incidents of anti-Asian attacks, his own plans to purchase an electric car and his thoughts on mounting a second run for the White House.
On infrastructure, U.S. can ‘learn from other countries’
As the Biden administration begins promoting its infrastructure plan to members of Congress and the American public, Buttigieg stressed that the U.S. should look to the example set by other countries.
“The U.S. shouldn’t be too proud to learn from other countries, especially now that we’re out of the top 10 [ranked countries for infrastructure],” he said. “I always want to see the U.S. No. 1.”
Buttigieg said the U.S. shouldn’t fall behind its competitors or its allies, pointing to Japan, Spain and China as countries with impressive high-speed train systems, which he said “can’t come soon enough” to the U.S.
In addition to rebuilding the nation’s roads, bridges and other physical infrastructure, however, the Biden plan also seeks to tackle social inequality and to address climate change.
Plans to buy electric vehicle
As the administration looks to shift more Americans to electric vehicles, Buttigieg said he and his husband, Chasten, are in the market for an electric car.
While the transportation secretary said that as a federal official he couldn’t specify whether he’s eyeing particular brands, he praised cars produced in the U.S., saying, “There’s some really amazing American-made vehicles coming onto the market.”
Buttigieg currently owns a gasoline-powered Chevy, he said, and is looking to stick with an American-made brand.
“There are a lot of options that we should be very proud of because so many of them are coming from American companies with American workers,” he told Yahoo News.
When it comes to shifting more Americans to electric vehicles, Buttigieg acknowledged that affordability remains an obstacle.
“It’s going to take policy choices to make this available for Americans. This can’t be a luxury,” he said. “This has to be a shift in the fundamentals of our economy that creates more opportunity for people.”
The Biden administration has proposed a $174 billion investment in the electric vehicle market to incentivize Americans to switch to electric cars.
There’s a two-part solution to making electric cars more affordable, Buttigieg said: lowering the price tag through tax incentives and rebates and increasing the range of electric vehicles available to Americans.
Buttigieg said he hopes to lead by example, citing Biden’s commitment to electrify the federal vehicle fleet.
“The government alone owns and operates a lot of vehicles, and that’s something the president is pushing us to look at too,” he said. “How do we [transition those to] electric? Again, hopefully in a way that creates a lot of jobs.”
On anti-Asian sentiment: ‘Hate has no home here’
In its push to pass the American Jobs Plan in Congress, the Biden administration and its surrogates have often promoted it as a means to help the U.S. compete with China. When the president announced the plan, for instance, he said, "[Republicans] know China and other countries are eating our lunch."
The rhetoric used to sell the plan has coincided, however, with an increase in reports of anti-Asian attacks nationwide.
When asked if positioning China as a threat to America’s economic future in order to help push the infrastructure bill was a mistake, Buttigieg said the U.S. can be serious about its “meaningful differences” with China on issues such as human rights and trade conflicts while remaining clear that anti-Asian hate has no place in America.
“We need to be keeping up with all of our competitors — whether it’s a strategic competitor like China, whether it’s our allies in Europe. We should be doing the best,” he said.
“Any American, but certainly any Asian American, should have no reason to question their belonging based on who they are or where they come from or how they look or whether they’ve been here for generations or whether there’s a different language spoken at home,” Buttigieg added. “Everybody belongs in this country, and hate has no home here.”
Internet access is a necessity, not a luxury
Improving reliable internet access for all Americans is important for young people, Buttigieg said.
“You need it to do your homework. You need it to be connected into your school, especially in the pandemic, but frankly even when we’re back to more ... real-life interactions in all of our schools,” he said.
A recent report from The 74 found that, a year after the coronavirus pandemic began, nearly 12 million students still lack reliable internet access. The Biden administration, Buttigieg said, wants to invest $100 billion in high-speed broadband with the aim of reaching the whole country.
Buttigieg compared the broadband push to the 1950s construction of the interstate highway system, noting that the focus is on delivering stronger internet connections to those Americans who have been “overburdened and underserved.”
“You definitely need [internet] to plug into the bigger economy,” he said. “Try applying for a job now without an internet connection.”
“We know that disproportionately it’s been in communities of color that we haven’t had good or affordable connections,” he added. “Also rural areas.”
On his presidential aspirations
Buttigieg, a former presidential candidate who, in 2020, rose from relative obscurity into the top tier of the Democratic field, said he has “no idea” about whether he’ll run for president again.
For now, he’s focused on his new role as transportation secretary. “I just know that I’ve got to do a good job now,” he said. “I have no idea what the future holds.”
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