Biden Picks Buttigieg to Lead Transportation Department

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks at a campaign rally late Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(CN) — With his pending presidency now cemented by the Electoral College, President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a slate of nominees Tuesday, including the first openly gay cabinet secretary.

Biden nominated Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, as his pick to lead the Department of Transportation after the two men fought a fierce battle for the Democratic nomination. 

“Mayor Pete Buttigieg is a patriot and a problem-solver who speaks to the best of who we are as a nation,” Biden said in a statement released Tuesday. “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 major issues like jobs, infrastructure reconstruction and climate change are just some of the issues Buttigieg will have to tackle as transportation secretary. 

“I trust Mayor Pete to lead this work with focus, decency, and a bold vision — he will bring people together to get big things done,” Biden said. 

Buttigieg said he is looking forward to the challenges of the position if the Senate agrees to confirm him. 

“This is a moment of tremendous opportunity — to create jobs, meet the climate challenge, and enhance equity for all,” Buttigieg said on Twitter Tuesday evening. “I’m honored that the President-elect has asked me to serve our nation as Secretary of Transportation.”

The president-elect also filled out some environmental advisory positions in the White House on Tuesday, nominating former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy. McCarthy will serve as the senior White House adviser on climate change, a position that figures to have a major influence as Biden has selected combating climate change as one of his chief platform planks.  

Biden has pledged to help make the United States carbon neutral by 2050, and McCarthy will help him implement policies that pertain to the domestic areas of climate change. Biden has nominated John Kerry, former U.S. senator and secretary of state, as his climate czar to weigh in on how the issue affects foreign policy and national security, but McCarthy will concentrate on how to incorporate the issue into domestic policy. 

McCarthy — who ran the EPA during the Obama administration — has been serving as the president of the Natural Resource Defense Council, one of the more prominent environmental and wildlife advocacy groups in the nation. 

Ali Zaidi has been tapped to serve as McCarthy’s deputy in the White House, according to multiple reports. Zaidi helped write the Biden campaign’s climate plan and has been serving as the deputy secretary for energy and environment in New York.

Biden will introduce Buttigieg tomorrow at a press conference in Delaware. The two men faced off on the debate stage more than once during a hotly contested primary season, but also forged a relationship built on mutual respect, according to several insiders. 

Both men came across as moderates, particularly when compared with the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party as embodied by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. 

Progressives relentlessly attacked Buttigieg, allowing Biden to stay above the fray and eventually coast to the nomination. 

Buttigieg then took a prominent role as a campaign surrogate, often appearing on Fox News to defend Biden during the campaign season and cast pointed barbs at President Donald Trump. 

Pundits floated Buttigieg’s name for several cabinet positions, including ambassador to China. The mayor is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and was rumored to be tapped to lead the Department of Veteran Affairs, but the Biden team sees transportation as a sector where the administration can make innovative leaps to build infrastructure and fight climate change. 

Buttigieg is unquestionably a gifted speaker, which underscores his rise from a small-city mayor to a viable presidential candidate who appeared after a messy win in Iowa to be on track for the Democratic nomination. Buttigieg is openly gay, is married to another man, which caused problems for the mayor in securing the approval of some wings of the Democratic Party during the nomination process. 

Nevertheless, Buttigieg’s rise on the national scene and subsequent nomination as a major cabinet secretary represent a major victory for the LGTBQ community, according to advocates.

“This will be a historic milestone for LGBTQ visibility,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, the president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. “Pete’s experience and skills as a leader, manager and brilliant communicator, combined with his heartland roots and his unqualified commitment to diversity and equality, will improve the lives of all Americans.”

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