Biden Taps Ex-Rival Buttigieg to Be Transportation Secretary

President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, to be his transportation secretary, assigning a one-time rival an important role in fulfilling a campaign pledge to “build back better.”

In a statement announcing the pick, Biden described Buttigieg as “a patriot and a problem-solver who speaks to the best of who we are as a nation,” and that he wants him to lead the Transportation Department “because this position stands at the nexus of so many of the interlocking challenges and opportunities ahead of us.

“Jobs, infrastructure, equity, and climate all come together at the DOT, the site of some of our most ambitious plans to build back better,” Biden said. “I trust Mayor Pete to lead this work with focus, decency, and a bold vision — he will bring people together to get big things done.”

Biden is scheduled to introduce Buttigieg in an event in Wilmington, Delaware on Wednesday. A former candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, Buttigieg narrowly won the Iowa caucuses but endorsed Biden after dropping out of the race.

”Innovation in transportation helped build my hometown, and it propels our country. Now is the time to build back better through modern and sustainable infrastructure that creates millions of good-paying union jobs, revitalizes communities, and empowers all Americans to thrive,” Buttigieg said on Twitter.

If approved by the Senate, Buttigieg would become the first openly gay person confirmed to serve on a president’s cabinet, Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign said Tuesday. The civil rights group that focuses on LGBTQ issues called the pick “historic” in a press release.

“Breaking the barrier of having an LGBTQ person serve in a cabinet-level position is important,” David said in an interview shortly before the selection became public. “It can’t be in 2020 or 2021 that we don’t have an LGBTQ person who’s been nominated and qualified to serve in that position.”

U.S. Representative David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat who is co-chairman of the U.S. House LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, added in a tweet: “I’ve known Mayor @PeteButtigieg for years. I’m proud he will be the first openly LGBTQ+ Cabinet official in our country’s history. He has a brilliant intellect, a keen understanding of our infrastructure challenges, and will make an excellent Secretary of Transportation.”

Buttigieg, 38, a military veteran and Harvard University graduate, was mayor of South Bend for two terms, leaving office last January.

Biden Taps Ex-Rival Buttigieg to Be Transportation Secretary

The secretary of transportation oversees a budget of almost $90 billion, the majority of which pays for building roads, bridges and other highway infrastructure. The DOT also manages multiple agencies that regulate aviation, railroads, trucking and pipeline safety.

The position could be pivotal in any attempts by Biden to expand infrastructure spending, as some Democrats are seeking.

The department also is among the federal agencies that could play a significant role in the coronavirus pandemic. The Trump administration has so far not set any health-related rules for travel on planes, railroads and transit systems. In addition, the department could help struggling airlines and transit systems recover from dramatic drops in passengers.

Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said on Bloomberg Television that the choice suggests that the administration will take infrastructure very seriously.

“You know, mayors have been some of the best advocates for infrastructure,” Bradley said. “Infrastructure is a long overdue priority, you know. The incoming Biden team tells us they’re going to make that a priority in the first six months of next year, and I think this is confirmation that they are indeed are going to put a lot of resources and the right personnel behind it.”

Transportation advocates, environmentalists and labor leaders in Washington all praised the choice.

U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat who chairs the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a statement: “Pete Buttigieg is a strong choice to lead the Biden administration’s efforts to ‘Build Back Better’ with infrastructure plans that not only move our country into the modern era, but also generate the economic activity that this country so badly needs right now to pull us out of economic recession.”

Beth Osborne, director of Transportation for America, a Washington-based non-profit that advocates for expansive transportation policies, also touted Buttigieg’s work on improving sidewalks as South Bend mayor.

“I am so excited to hear that @JoeBiden has nominated @PeteButtigieg as the next secretary of transportation,” Osborne tweeted. “My team at @completestreets has worked with him over his time as mayor and have really appreciated his commitment to Complete Streets.”

Greg Regan, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, said he isn’t worried that Buttigieg’s lack of direct experience in the transportation industry could be a hindrance.

“His campaign platform, if we’re judging him on that, was very pro-worker and he had a robust infrastructure plan,” Regan said in an interview. “I think he fits in with Biden’s platform on rebuilding infrastructure.”

Gina Coplon-Newfield, Director of Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign, said in a statement Biden’s decision to tap Buttigieg for the transportation post is “historic” and “furthers our high hopes that President-elect Biden will prioritize investment in clean transportation and infrastructure, from public transit to 100% clean vehicles.”

Buttigieg received a Rhodes Scholarship to attend the University of Oxford in England. In addition to working as a consultant to McKinsey & Co., he served in the Navy Reserve as an intelligence officer.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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