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.
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 on COVID-19 safety in transportation. “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.
As examples, he pledged to help put in place new federal automotive fuel economy standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote quicker development of self-driving cars and push the use of electric vehicles, such as by adding a half-million charging stations nationwide.
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.