WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden has picked former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg to head the transportation department, the Biden-Harris transition team announced Tuesday.
Buttigieg, one of Biden’s rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, was a breakout star of the primaries, sharing victory in the nation’s first caucus with Sen. Bernie Sanders. He suspended his campaign before Super Tuesday and endorsed Biden.
The president-elect has compared the 38-year-old Buttigieg to his late son, Beau, saying there's no higher compliment he could pay anyone.
“Mayor Pete Buttigieg is a patriot and a problem-solver who speaks to the best of who we are as a nation," Biden said in a statement. "I am nominating him for Secretary of Transportation 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. 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.”
The Transportation Department helps oversee the nation’s highway system, planes, trains and mass transit and is poised to play a key role early in the incoming administration.
Biden has pledged to spend billions making major infrastructure improvements and on retrofitting initiatives that can help the U.S. battle climate change. He also wants to immediately mandate mask-wearing on airplanes and public transportation systems to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Infrastructure spending can be a bipartisan issue, and President Donald Trump spent years promising to push a major bill through Congress that never materialized. Instead his administration moved to soften carbon emissions standards that Biden's team will likely work to undo as part of the broader commitment to slowing global warming.
Buttigieg would be the first Senate-confirmed LGBTQ Cabinet secretary, should his nomination go through.
The once most frequently mentioned early pick to head the Transportation Department, President Barack Obama's former chief of staff and ex-Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, sparked strong pushback from top progressive activists. Emanuel, also a former congressman, helped oversee the Obama administration's distribution of tens of billions of dollars in transportation spending as part of a massive stimulus bill approved following the financial crisis — but now seems unlikely to take any position in Biden's administration.
His chances faded after progressives and civil rights leaders were very critical of Emanuel's handling of the high-profile police shooting death of Laquan McDonald, a Black teenager killed by a white officer, during his time as Chicago’s mayor.