President-elect Joe Biden formally announced his choice for U.S. transportation secretary on Wednesday, calling former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg “a new voice with new ideas.”
“I’m honored he’s answered the call to serve his country once again,” Biden said of the 38-year-old veteran.
Biden had announced the pick Tuesday. If confirmed by the Senate, Buttigieg would be the first confirmed openly gay Cabinet secretary, a fact both Biden and Buttigieg noted in remarks. He is a former rival of Biden’s, having run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination before dropping out after a poor showing in South Carolina.
Buttigieg told Biden he’s “eager to do everything in my power to see that this administration succeeds.”
He said he has “a personal love of transportation,” recounting 1,000-mile-long train trips on Amtrak while in college, and said he proposed to his now-husband, Chasten, in an airport terminal. “Don’t let anyone tell you O’Hare isn’t romantic,” he joked.
Buttigieg said he was “mindful that the eyes of history are on this appointment,” saying he recalled as a 17-year-old seeing the news that one of then-President Bill Clinton’s intended nominees was denied a Senate vote because he was gay.
“Two decades later, I can’t help but think of a 17-year-old somewhere who might be watching us right now, somebody who wonders whether and where they belong in the world or even in their own family,” Buttigieg said. “And I’m thinking about the message that today’s announcement is sending to them.”
At 38, Buttigieg is the youngest of Biden’s Cabinet selections to date. He noted that he is the first millennial to be selected, adding that “future generations have a lot at stake in infrastructure policy that, by its nature, must contemplate both the immediate and the long term.”
He said Americans expect the incoming administration to see to it that “the idea of an ‘infrastructure week’ is associated with results and never again to be a punchline,” alluding to repeated rhetoric from the Trump administration about plans for an infrastructure overhaul that were never followed up.
Biden said transportation is at “the intersection of some of our most ambitious plans to build back better,” nodding at one of his campaign slogans. He said his infrastructure improvement proposals would include the “second great railroad revolution,” and said he would seek funding “to build more climate-resilient communities to deal with more extreme floods, droughts and super storms.” Biden also said the U.S. “can own” the market for electric vehicles.
Prior to introducing Buttigieg, Biden defended the diversity of his appointees and intended nominees, implicitly pushing back against some criticism he’s received from various corners about the makeup of his core team of advisers.