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IT’S PETE TIME: Pete Buttigieg, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to be Transportation secretary, will have a confirmation hearing Thursday. It’s hard to imagine a better format for Buttigieg, who has a clear love for policy debates and shines on TV, to showcase his skills as a communicator and prove he’s right for the job.
What to expect: Buttigieg is likely to keep it broad. To this point, he’s avoided being pinned down on specific policies out of a desire to not get ahead of Biden and his team. Members of the Senate Commerce Committee will, however, ask him about a bevy of parochial issues of interest in their districts. He’ll also likely promise to visit several states, as Jeff Davis of the Eno Center notes — including far-flung Hawaii and Alaska, which both have representatives on Senate Commerce.
What will Republicans do? Sen. Todd Young, Buttigieg’s fellow Hoosier, will introduce the nominee at the hearing and has already expressed his support. Other Republicans on the committee might not be so friendly. High-profile GOP senators at the hearing will include Ted Cruz of Texas and Rick Scott of Florida, who could very well look to attack Buttigieg on his lack of specific transportation experience.
The outlook: Never say never, but there’s little chance Buttigieg will do anything to hurt his strong chances of getting confirmed. Buttigieg’s financial disclosure, published over the weekend, also didn’t add much to the conversation, other than make clear that the former mayor has made a living off of books and podcasts since leaving his position in South Bend, Ind.
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THERE’S A NEW DEPUTY COMING TO TOWN: The Biden transition announced a handful of second-in-command picks over the weekend, including for DOT. Polly Trottenberg, who resigned in November as head of New York City’s transportation department, will be appointed deputy Transportation secretary. She’s an experienced hand who has put in the years at DOT and on the Hill and could help fill some of the gaps in Buttigieg’s experience. And the New York connections could come in handy in the new configuration of the Senate: Trottenberg used to work for soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who will need to be on speed dial for Buttigieg’s DOT as the Biden administration works on infrastructure. Subscribers can read more about the pick here.
TRAVEL FLIP-FLOP: The Trump administration announced Monday night that it would be removing pandemic travel restrictions on non-citizens entering the U.S. from Brazil and much of Europe, in conjunction with the new testing requirements that go into effect for international travelers on Jan. 26. Just hours later, the Biden team spoke up and said, essentially: That’s up to us, and we’re not doing that. “With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” wrote Biden press secretary Jen Psaki. “On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26.”
THE FIRST 10 DAYS: Among the very first actions president-elect Biden will take in office: mandating masks on federal property and during interstate travel, and reversing the Trump administration’s travel ban.
INAUGURATION DAY BRINGS SECURITY FEARS: Airlines, airports, transit agencies and Amtrak have been tightening security and adopting a number of new policies in an effort to avoid a repeat of this month’s violence at the Capitol. As our Tanya Snyder and Stephanie Beasley reported, several major airlines have temporarily banned guns and suspended alcohol service and airports have created safe zones to help lawmakers avoid threatening mobs as they travel in and out of Washington, D.C. TSA also is stepping up its efforts to protect air, surface, rail and transit hubs, administrator David Pekoske said in a statement Friday.
Like no other: Previous inaugurations have been heavily guarded events, but this year’s will be especially tense, given concerns that violent extremists will again flock to Washington. “This is as serious of a law enforcement threat as I’ve seen, potentially, in my career,” Amtrak Police Chief Sam Dotson said.
SOME EXTRA DETAILS: Amtrak announced on Saturday that it is halting Northeast Regional service south of Washington today and Wednesday, and said taxis and drivers for ride-hailing services will not be permitted at D.C.’s Union Station.
Buses: Megabus also said it will suspend travel in and out of Washington until after the inauguration. Megabus was among several bus companies the House Oversight Committee pressed for help in “identifying and preventing ongoing and extreme threats,” in letters sent out last week. Other recipients also included rental car companies, hotels and Expedia.
ONE LAST THING: On her way out the door last week, now-former DOT Secretary Elaine Chao approved a joint venture between American Airlines and JetBlue that has drawn criticism from members of Congress, antitrust experts and rival carriers. DOT allowed the two airlines to move forward with the deal — which will include an agreement to share revenue, have reciprocal frequent flyer programs, and let customers book tickets with routes across both airlines — under certain conditions, such as divesting slots at capacity-constrained airports in D.C. and New York.
And yet: The deal’s critics predict the American-JetBlue alliance will drastically reduce competition at airports like Washington’s Reagan National, where the two airlines will hold 60 percent of the available slots. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the incoming chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, told POLITICO that she was concerned that DOT approved the alliance without “meaningful public input” and just before the start of a new administration. A DOT spokesperson said the department followed normal procedure.
FIRST OF MANY? FAA has approved the first fully automated commercial drone flights, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. The agency gave American Robotics Inc. permission to fly drones without an operator on site. Although the flights will be restricted to rural areas and altitudes below 400 feet. FAA said in a statement that the agency conducts “thorough safety assessments before issuing any unmanned aircraft operation approvals.”
LEGALESE: A coalition of states and environmental groups filed court documents Thursday challenging DOT’s and EPA’s analysis of rules that weaken emissions and fuel economy standards for vehicles, saying the agencies made “blatant and significant errors,” Alex Guillén reported for POLITICO Pro. “The Trump rule’s opponents, filing their opening legal briefs against the rule in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, allege the rule contained a litany of computational errors that undercut its justification,” he writes. The legal arguments against the rules could be used to justify a new rulemaking effort under the Biden administration.
DOC OF THE DAY: Ahead of Buttigieg’s hearing this week, the airline lobby group Airlines for America sent him a list of requests and recommendations for recovering from the pandemic and strengthening the industry going forward. Among the asks: Embrace preflight coronavirus testing as a solution to unlock international travel, issue federal standards for verifying health data and clarify Covid safety requirements for workers. A4A also rehashed a number of longtime requests, including boosting airport funding (though not raising the Passenger Facility Charge) and modernizing the air traffic control system.
— “Canada OKs return of Boeing 737 Max aircraft.” Associated Press.
— “Ten months into the pandemic, transit systems in the Washington suburbs have a long way to normal.” The Washington Post.
— “Tesla starts delivering China-made Model Y crossover.” Wall Street Journal.
— “Carmaker Stellantis shares jump in Milan, Paris on first day.” Associated Press.
—“Why ultra-low cost carrier Spirit Airlines is falling behind.” CNBC.
— “Beirut blast chemicals possibly linked to Syrian businessmen – report, company filings.” Reuters.