Buttigieg as Transportation Secretary: A Review

On December 16, President-elect Joe Biden nominated Pete Buttigieg to be Secretary of Transportation. “I got to know Pete on the campaign trail,” the president-elect said. “He’s one of the smartest people you'll ever meet, and one of the most humble.” Biden lauded Buttigieg as a “new voice with new ideas, determined to move past old politics.” Early in February, Buttigieg was confirmed by the Senate with bipartisan support in a 86-13 vote.


“This is a moment of tremendous opportunity—to create jobs, meet the climate challenge, and enhance equity for all,” Buttigieg Tweeted. “I’m honored that the President-elect has asked me to serve our nation as Secretary of Transportation.” Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, ran against Biden in the presidential primaries. Although Kamala Harris is Biden’s vice president, Buttigieg is the first of his former primary opponents to be nominated to a cabinet position.


Buttigieg has no experience with transportation or infrastructure on the national level; Biden's website instead boasts his courting of "$200 million in private investment in downtown South Bend" as mayor, creating "innovative public-private partnerships to improve the city’s transportation." Buttigieg is also America’s first openly-gay secretary in a permanent cabinet position. (Richard Grenell, who is also openly gay, temporarily served as acting director of intelligence for three months under President Trump.)


The Associated Press reports that Biden also considered Rahm Emanuel, an old ally who served as President Obama’s chief of staff, for the position. As mayor of Chicago, Emanuel helped revitalize the city’s public transit and airports, and the AP credits him with turning Chiago into “one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the country.” However, Emanuel’s mixed record on race, especially his handling of the police murder of Black teenager Laquan McDonald, made him an unpopular choice with the liberal senators needed for a confirmation vote. Other candidates considered include California’s Secretary of Transportation, David Kim; former deputy Secretary of Transportation, John Porcari; and interim president of the New York Transit Authority, Sarah Feinberg.


The appointment will give Buttigieg experience in national government, which may prove vital should dwindling electoral opportunities in his increasingly-Republican home state of Indiana convince him to make another run at the Presidency. Buttigieg will oversee 53,000 employees and play a vital role in enacting Biden’s proposed climate reforms: Areas managed by the Department of Transportation include oil pipelines, public transit, and airlines. Further, Biden has pledged to “provide every American city with 100,000 or more residents with high-quality zero-emissions public transportation.” The Census Bureau estimates that there are over three hundred such cities in the country, so this ambitious pledge will prove an early test of Buttigieg.

Last week, Buttigieg met with Biden and top Democrats to promise a "clean energy revolution." Now, we'll see if they can deliver one.