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Who is Pete Buttigieg, Biden’s new transportation secretary?

The newest member of President Biden's cabinet is also the youngest, but 'Mayor Pete' has a history of infrastructure reform and green initiatives in local government.

Who is Pete Buttigieg, Biden’s new transportation secretary?
Chris Kleponis - Pool via CNP / EFE

On Tuesday the Senate confirmed Pete Buttigieg as President Joe Biden’s transportation secretary. Buttigieg is the former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana and ran for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

The 86 to 13 vote in favour of his confirmation made the 39-year-old the United States’ first openly gay member of the cabinet and showed the extent of the bipartisan support for his appointment. He is expected to lead the infrastructure overhaul that Biden promised during the election campaign and which is hoped to help kick-start the post-pandemic economy.

Who is Pete Buttigieg?

The youngest member of Biden’s cabinet, Buttigieg in a Harvard graduate and Afghanistan war veteran who first came to national prominence during his unsuccessful bid for presidential nominee. He frequently referred to himself as ‘Mayor Pete’, referencing his background in local government.

Despite narrowly winning the Iowa caucuses in 2019, becoming the first openly gay candidate to win a presidential primary or caucus, he dropped out of the race in March 2020 and endorsed Biden the following day.

Some critics have questioned his suitability for the Department of Transportation role but his history in local government should stand him in good stead. At his confirmation hearing in January, Buttigieg spoke of having a “generational opportunity” to improve infrastructure and correct prevailing injustices.

“I believe good transportation policy can play no less a role than making possible the American dream,” he said. “But I also recognize that at their worst, misguided policies and missed opportunities in transportation can reinforce racial and economic inequality.

What will Buttigieg do as transportation secretary?

Upon announcing his nomination for the role, Biden said that Buttigieg would bring a “new voice” to the administration and would help bring about the institutional changes needed in the Transportation Department.

It will be no small task; some 55,000 people are currently employed by the department which has an annual budget of tens of billions of dollars. It will likely be the subject of much further investment throughout Biden’s time in office as he looks to stimulate economic growth after the coronavirus pandemic.

Buttigieg will be at the cutting edge of Biden’s new green initiatives which he hopes will help shift the US economy towards renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Later this year Biden is expected to announce his new $2 trillion climate and infrastructure plan which focuses on rebuilding roads and bridges, expanding zero-emission mass transit and boosting electric vehicle infrastructure.

Speaking on the Senate floor shortly before his confirmation, Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell praised Buttigieg’s fresh approach, which she hoped would address the “crumbling off of bridges, delayed trains, buses, congestion, railroads, or any of the many issues.”

She continued: “He’s a young, energetic mayor who is going to help us usher in a new era of transportation.”