The streak is over.
Utah Sen. Mike Lee found a Cabinet-level nominee he could support and voted Tuesday to confirm Pete Buttigieg as the new secretary of transportation for President Joe Biden.
Lee had been one of just two senators — along with Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. — who had opposed all of Biden’s nominees to that point. Lee gave a variety of reasons for his votes, saying he had no overarching philosophical opposition to Biden’s nominees.
The Senate voted 86-13 to confirm Buttigieg, making him the first-ever openly gay person confirmed to a Cabinet position. Buttigieg is the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and was a major Democratic presidential candidate last year.
Conn Carroll, spokesman for Lee, said, “Sen. Lee was encouraged by his questioning with Mr. Buttigieg in committee, particularly with his answers on the problems with increasing the gas tax, and he is hopeful he can find more common ground with him as secretary.”
Lee pushed Buttigieg in that confirmation hearing not to raise federal gasoline taxes to bolster a federal Highway Trust Fund that is teetering on insolvency. Buttigieg said he would consider alternatives — but will consider a tax hike, too. The federal portion of gas tax, 18.4 cents per gallon, has not been raised since 1993.
“I think there’s a recognition that we don’t have adequate national resources going into roads and highways and that we need to look at any responsible, viable revenue mechanism we can all agree on to do something about that,” Buttigieg earlier told Lee.
Lee earlier voted against the confirmation of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines. He also previously announced he would vote against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, whose confirmation vote came after Buttigieg on Tuesday.
Lee gave a seemingly inconsistent reason for opposing Austin, a former four-star Army general who became the first Black defense secretary. Austin first had to win waivers from the House and Senate (also opposed by Lee) to allow him to serve without waiting through a normally required 7-year period after active military service.
Carroll said at the time, “Sen. Lee believes civilian control of the military is best served by the existing rule requiring a seven-year gap between active duty and the position of secretary of defense. Other senators may have voted to waive that rule for Gen. Austin, but Sen. Lee believes it should be uniformly applied.”
Lee opposed Yellen because he said she did not make debt reduction a priority.
He opposed Blinken saying he didn’t like his policy stands on the Middle East and worried he might try to limit Senate involvement in foreign policy.
The senator said he opposed Haines because of concern she may not allow the intelligence community to share enough information with Congress to provide proper oversight.
And he had opposed Mayorkas for what Carroll said was an “established track record of favoritism for partisan allies.”