If approved by the Senate, the former South Bend, Ind., mayor would become the first openly gay person to hold a Senate-confirmed cabinet position in U.S. history. At 38, he would also be one of the youngest members of Biden’s administration, which has skewed heavily toward nominees with long resumes and decades of experience in Washington.
In a tweet, Buttigieg said he was “honoured” by the nomination.
“This is a moment of tremendous opportunity — to create jobs, meet the climate challenge, and enhance equity for all,” he wrote.
Biden said in a statement that Buttigieg was a “patriot and a problem-solver who speaks to the best of who we are as a nation.”
“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,” Biden said.
“Jobs, infrastructure, equity, and climate all come together at the (Department of Transportation), the site of some of our most ambitious plans to build back better.”
Buttigieg made an impact during the Democratic presidential primary earlier this year, eventually moving into the top tier of candidates challenging Biden for the nomination. His mix of centrist and progressive policies led him to finish at or near the top in the first few statewide contests, including the Iowa caucus.
After his campaign struggled to appeal to Black voters, however, Buttigieg quickly withdrew from the race and endorsed Biden, helping to put significant energy behind the former vice-president’s White House bid.
It’s long been clear that Biden would find some role for Buttigieg in his administration. The two became close during the primary, chatting before debates and other campaign events.
Biden has said that Buttigieg reminds him of his late son, Beau, who was Delaware’s attorney general before dying from brain cancer at 46 in 2015.
“To me, it’s the highest compliment I can give any man or woman,” Biden said in March as Buttigieg offered his endorsement. “Like Beau, he has a backbone like a ramrod.”
There were reports that Buttigieg was being considered for an ambassadorship, possibly to China or the United Nations, based on his military background and foreign policy chops.
Instead, he’ll potentially lead a department that would be in charge of the major widespread infrastructure improvements and retrofitting initiatives that are key parts of Biden’s plans to combat climate change.
Biden also wants to mandate mandatory mask-wearing on airplanes, trains and other public transportation in an effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic, moves that would be overseen by Buttigieg if he is confirmed.
President Donald Trump spent years promising to push a major infrastructure 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 a broader commitment to slowing global warming.
Some of Trump’s infrastructure promises — particularly repairing roads and bridges along with refurbishing many of the nation’s airports — have been pushed by previous presidents and are also part of Biden’s platform.
Despite having governed a city of barely 100,000, Buttigieg was credited with transforming traffic with his Smart Streets initiative, a three-year project to convert 8 miles (12.9 kilometres) of multilane thoroughfares into two-way routes that enhanced South Bend’s downtown. The project received awards for environmental protection.
Though on a far smaller scale than the nation’s transportation systems, the project, as well as Buttigieg’s initiative to convert the city’s sewers to a smart-flow system, demonstrates what supporters praised as Buttigieg’s next-generation infrastructure vision.
Biden’s selection of Buttigieg for transportation secretary drew praise from LGBTQ rights groups, with one calling it “a new milestone in a decades-long effort” to have LGBTQ2 representation in the U.S. government.
“Its impact will reverberate well-beyond the department he will lead,” added Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Institute.
The South Bend chapter of Black Lives Matter, however, denounced Buttigieg’s impending nomination. The group had made their displeasure of Buttigieg known during his presidential campaign, following the 2019 South Bend shooting of a Black man by a white police officer.
“We saw Black communities have their houses torn down by his administration,” BLM’s South Bend leader Jorden Giger said in a statement, referring to Buttigieg’s effort to tear down substandard housing. “We saw the machinery of his police turned against Black people.”
— With files from the Associated Press