The cooperation the Senate is showing on immigration reform legislation—which Mr. LaHood predicted would pass there. It subsequently did pass by a 68-32 vote.
And he suggested strongly that senators also have the will to pass a highway bil. But the House is another matter.
"After the debacle of the farm bill, the prospects in the House are not good," Mr. LaHood said. "The way the farm bill played out—when anyone who wanted to add an amendment did so, then voted against the bill as a whole—that's not the way to engender good will, or the return of bipartisanship."
Mr. LaHood, a seven-term congressman from Illinois who became one of the few Republicans in President Barack Obama's Cabinet, said a return to civility and bipartisanship was the only way Congress could hope to accomplish anything.
Mr. LaHood said bipartisan dinners were a regular feature in Congress when he served there. "We wouldn't agree on all the issues, but we developed friendships that lasted long after we left Congress."
"When I was in Congress, people came to Washington to get something done," he said. "In the last few elections, a smaller group of people are here to do nothing, and that's what they've done."
When President Obama was first elected to the Senate in 2004, Mr. LaHood said, one of his first acts was to call on Mr. LaHood's district office in Peoria, Ill. "Bipartisanship is in the president's DNA," he said.
Mr. LaHood was appointed as DOT secretary in 2009. During his National Press Club speech, he noted several accomplishments during his tenure of which he was proudest, including:
• The "Cash for Clunkers" program to buy back old, high-polluting vehicles, which he said resulted in the sale of 700,000 new cars in 30 days;
• A corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) of 54.5 mpg to go in effect by model year 2025; and
• The repair or replacement of 350,000 miles of roads and 20,000 bridges.
Also during Mr. LaHood's tenure, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a final rule on tire fuel economy ratings, on March 30, 2010. However, proposed rules on fuel economy labeling and consumer information programs have yet to come out of NHTSA.
To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 202-662-7211.