Sept. 22, 2022

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg blasted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for sending migrants en masse to Democrat-led cities — accusing the Republican governors of using vulnerable people to call attention to themselves.

“Obviously, there are issues with the border and with migration,” Buttigieg said Thursday during the opening keynote of the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival. “But these are the kinds of stunts you see from people who don’t have a solution.”

Abbott has bused more than 11,000 migrants to cities including Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago. DeSantis followed suit last week when the state of Florida paid to fly migrants from Texas — allegedly luring them by promising housing and jobs in Boston — to the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard, where they were stranded.

Missing from Abbott and DeSantis’ tactics are any proposals to tackle the broader issue of immigration and border security, Buttigieg said.

“It’s not just ineffectual — it is hurting people in order to get attention,” Buttigieg said.

Spokespeople for Abbott and DeSantis did not immediately return emails Thursday evening requesting comment.

In a wide-ranging discussion with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith, Buttigieg, the first openly gay Cabinet member confirmed by the Senate, called out Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn for vowing to vote against a bill to enshrine same-sex marriage in federal law.

“I’ve met both of your senators and your governor,” Buttigieg said. “I don’t know their spouses. I don’t really think about their marriages. But I can’t imagine a situation where I would attempt to undo one of their marriages. So what makes them think that they are fit to pronounce upon mine?”

Buttigieg said, “The question now for all of us living in America in these times is: Did we just live to see the high-water mark of rights and freedoms?”

A Cornyn spokesperson did not directly respond to Buttigieg’s remarks but instead pointed the Tribune to a July 21 statement to CNS News in which Cornyn says same-sex marriage is “already the law of the land. I think it’s a contrived issue because the Supreme Court decided the issue, so I don’t see any reason for the Congress to act.”

A Cruz spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

Buttigieg also blasted Abbott for directing the state’s child welfare agency to investigate parents who allow their transgender children access to gender-affirming care.

“You have a governor who, I mean, one minute they’re talking about parents’ rights, and next thing you know, they’re attacking parents, who when confronted with that sometimes disorienting and sometimes even frightening situation of your kid coming out to you, being in an incredibly vulnerable position trying to do the right thing for your kids and a government official wants to come and investigate you for trying to take care of your kids?” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg, believed to be a potential contender in the 2024 presidential race, has been criss-crossing the country touting the Biden administration’s $550 billion infrastructure bill, which passed with rare bipartisan support in a gridlocked Congress and stands as one of Democrats’ biggest congressional achievements since President Joe Biden took office. Texas is on deck to get a windfall of $27 billion for roads and bridges, $3.4 billion for public transportation, $1.2 billion for airports and more than $400 million to install chargers for electric vehicles.

“Some of the best use cases for electric vehicles are in places like Texas,” Buttigieg said, “places where people spend more time in their vehicles, where you drive longer distances than in a dense coastal city and therefore spend more money on gas and therefore would save more money — provided you can afford an electric vehicle, which is why we’re fighting to make electric vehicles cheaper.”

The infrastructure bill contains $1 billion intended to reconnect communities across the country that are divided by highways. Community groups and activists have pressured Texas transportation officials to halt planned highway expansions in the state’s major metros including Houston, Austin and Dallas. A planned widening of Interstate 45 in Houston — displacing hundreds of homes and businesses — is under federal investigation for potential civil rights violations.

Buttigieg has largely stayed out of fights over freeway expansions in Texas and spats between state and local officials over infrastructure projects. In the past, he has declined to comment on the I-45 expansion, citing the investigation by the Federal Highway Administration.

“Part of what we’re doing with [the investigation] is making sure that the law is upheld and that communities are heard,” Buttigieg said. “A lot of our responsibilities and our powers are procedural to make sure that communities are not trampled in this process. Right. So we’re going to respect the lawful role of the states but we are watching very closely to make sure that those responsibilities are upheld.

Earlier this year, Buttigieg told the Tribune that expansions in places with high population and economic growth “are called for” but should be “done in a way that minimizes environmental and community impacts.” Automobiles will be a major mode of transportation for some time, he has said —which is why the country needs to accelerate its transition to electric vehicles and invest in other modes of transportation.

“Cars will always play an important role in our lives, but you should not have to bring two tons of metal with you everywhere you’re going,” Buttigieg said Thursday night.

Before Buttigieg took the stage at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Austin, climate activists from the Texas Gulf Coast demonstrated across the street, calling on Buttigieg to reject permits for six proposed fossil fuel export terminals along the Texas and Louisiana coasts — which he has the authority to do — on the grounds that the resulting pollution would harm residents’ health, drive up energy costs and exacerbate climate change.

Inside the auditorium, activists briefly unfurled a banner that said, “Please, Pete, No Fossil Fuel Exports” before they were ushered out.

Buttigieg declined to comment directly on the projects but noted the agency has received thousands of comments about the proposals.

“I hear you,” Buttigieg said.

Disclosure: Paramount Theatre has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

The Texas Tribune Festival is here! Happening Sept. 22-24 in downtown Austin, this year’s TribFest features more than 25 virtual conversations with guests like Eric Adams, Pete Souza, Jason Kander and many others. After they air for ticket holders, anyone can watch these events at the Tribune’s Festival news page. Catch up on the latest news and free sessions from TribFest.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/09/22/pete-buttigieg-texas-tribune-festival/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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