Pete Buttigieg won Senate approval Tuesday as transportation secretary, the first out gay person to be confirmed to a cabinet post. He’ll be tasked with advancing Joe Biden’s ambitious agenda of rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and fighting climate change.
Buttigieg, a 39-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Biden’s one-time rival during the Democratic presidential primaries, was approved on an 86-13 vote.
“I’m honored and humbled by today’s vote in the Senate_and ready to get to work,” Buttigieg tweeted shortly after he was confirmed.
Praised by Biden for bringing a “new voice” to the administration, Buttigieg takes over a transportation department with 55,000 employees and a budget of tens of billions dollars.
He has pledged to quickly get to work promoting safety and restoring consumer trust in America’s transportation networks as airlines, buses, city subway systems and Amtrak reel from plummeting ridership in the coronavirus pandemic.
Buttigieg brings diversity to the cabinet. Under Donald Trump, Richard Grenell served as acting director of national intelligence and is gay, but he did not have to face Senate confirmation as an acting director.
Buttigieg is expected to play an important role in promoting Biden’s sweeping green initiatives, helping to oversee stronger automotive fuel economy standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support the president’s push later this year for a $2tn climate and infrastructure plan. That plan will be focused on rebuilding roads and bridges and expanding zero-emission mass transit while boosting electric vehicle infrastructure, including building 500,000 charging stations over the next decade.
Biden hasn’t indicated how he intends to pay for an infrastructure plan, coming on top of the administration’s proposed $1.9 trillion virus relief plan that has met some headwinds in Congress. Buttigieg’s suggestion during his hearing that a gas tax hike might be needed was immediately walked back by his spokesman.
The Afghanistan war veteran burst on to the national scene in 2019 after launching a longshot presidential bid, introducing himself to voters as “Mayor Pete” and drawing initial skepticism due to his youth and limited government experience. He outperformed expectations after zeroing in on a message of generational change, finishing the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses in a virtual tie with Bernie Sanders.
But Buttigieg struggled to appeal to Black voters and dropped out of the race after a crushing loss to Biden in the South Carolina primary. Buttigieg chose to quickly endorse Biden, helping him solidify centrist support against Sanders’ strong liberal challenge.
“Congratulations to Secretary Pete Buttigieg on his historic confirmation,” Alphonso David, president of Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group, said after the vote. “This confirmation breaks through a barrier that has existed for too long, where LGBTQ identity served as an impediment to nomination or confirmation at the highest level of government.”