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Shuster Apologizes for Remarks on Obama Speech

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster apologized Wednesday at a major infrastructure conference, and later at a committee hearing, for remarks he made Tuesday night suggesting President Barack Obama lied about CEO interest in high-speed passenger rail service.

Shuster, R-Pa., was the keynote speaker at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “Let’s Rebuild America” conference, which it billed as a transportation issues summit and was one of the first public events for Shuster since he took over last month as committee chairman.

Before he spoke at length on various transportation infrastructure needs and legislation his committee will work on, he told the audience of industry lobbyists, CEOs and reporters that he needed to start with an apology.

“Last night I was quoted in response to the president’s State of the Union address that I implied he was lying about CEOs wanting to invest in a country that has high-speed rail,” Shuster said. “This type of incendiary rhetoric is not my style. I regret using those types of words. While I continue to disagree with the president on this point, I do not think the president is a liar.”

Obama in the speech had said, “Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire, a country with deteriorating roads and bridges or one with high-speed rail and Internet, high-tech schools, self-healing power grids.” The president added that CEOs have “said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs.” Shuster is one of many GOP lawmakers who has criticized the administration’s high-speed-rail push.

After the speech, Shuster was reported by Politico as criticizing Obama’s linkage of high-speed train service to business executives’ investment decisions. It quoted Shuster saying: “I think he’s lying about CEOs. They want to invest in a country that has high-speed rail? Really? Tell me what CEO said that.”

Earlier today, Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue praised the bipartisan approach on transportation issues once employed by Shuster’s father, Bud Shuster, when he chaired the same committee.

The new chairman told the conference that while it was an unpleasant starting note, he needed to address his reported comments. Shuster said it “was important to do that, because I want to make sure as you move forward, as Tom Donohue mentioned, doing things in a bipartisan way is extremely important.”

Among other policy goals, Shuster said his committee will work first on a new Water Resources Development Act, and he spelled out how seaports and inland waterway locks and dams need federal help for major upgrades.

He also chaired a hearing today on the federal role in infrastructure, where he repeated his apology statement. Ahead of that event Shuster assured the industry conference, “I believe strongly that there is a federal role” to improving the transportation system. He also warned that without major investments those systems “may reach a tipping point” in which many facilities start to break down from age and heavy use.

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