President-elect Joe Biden touted the diversity of his incoming administration as he introduced former rival Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday as his choice for U.S. transportation secretary to take the lead in upgrading America’s aging infrastructure.
Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, would be the first openly gay Cabinet secretary confirmed by the Senate if he is approved.
“The Biden-Harris Cabinet will be a historic Cabinet – a Cabinet that looks like America, a Cabinet that taps into the best of America, a Cabinet that is opening doors and breaking down barriers and accessing the full range of talent … in this nation,” Biden said as he puts forth what is shaping up to be the most diverse Cabinet in U.S. history.
Appearing with Buttigieg in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden said the 38-year-old would confront the task of restoring what he called “our crumbling roads, bridges and ports.” Biden has proposed a massive boost in infrastructure spending.
Buttigieg emerged from relative obscurity to mount a surprisingly robust campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination eventually won by Biden. A military veteran who served in Afghanistan, Buttigieg is in the vanguard of the next generation of Democratic politicians and is widely seen as a future presidential contender.
“I’m also mindful that the eyes of history are on this appointment, knowing that this is the first time an American president has ever sent an openly LGBTQ Cabinet member to the Senate for confirmation,” Buttigieg said.
When Buttigieg ended his campaign and endorsed Biden in March, Biden offered him high praise, saying the Indiana native reminded him of his late son, Beau.
As transportation secretary, Buttigieg would oversee a sprawling federal agency that regulates the nation’s airlines, transit systems and interstate highways. Buttigieg would also play a central role in Biden’s proposed infrastructure and environmental initiatives, including plans to add 500,000 charging stations nationwide for electric vehicles.
“Americans shouldn’t settle for less than our peers in the developed world when it comes to our roads and bridges, our railways and transit systems. The U.S. should lead the way, and I know that in this administration we will,” Buttigieg said.
The outline of Biden’s climate change team is growing clearer. Sources told Reuters on Tuesday that Biden intends to make Gina McCarthy, the former Environmental Protection Agency head, his domestic climate “czar” and former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm his energy secretary.
Biden has methodically assembled his administration despite President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede after losing the Nov. 3 election. The Republican president has made unfounded claims of widespread election fraud.
“Too soon to give up,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
Biden, who served as vice president under the nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama, has vowed to build a government that reflects the country’s diversity.
In addition to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who will become the first Black person, Asian American and woman to serve as the nation’s No. 2, Biden has named multiple women and minorities to Cabinet-level positions.
They include Janet Yellen, who would be the first female treasury secretary; Lloyd Austin, who would be the first Black defense secretary; and Alejandro Mayorkas, who would be the first immigrant and first Latino to head the homeland security department.
Biden also is expected to pick Brenda Mallory of the Southern Environmental Law Center green advocacy group to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, sources familiar with the process told Reuters.
Buttigieg would lead a department with 54,000 employees and an $80 billion annual budget. It oversees all modes of transportation and pipeline safety. Biden’s administration is expected to seek to shift more transportation spending toward environmentally friendly modes like high-speed rail and electric vehicles.
“This administration can deliver policies and resources that will create jobs, rise to the climate challenge, and equitably serve all Americans, all while continuing to ensure the safety of travelers and workers alike,” Buttigieg said.
U.S. transit systems have faced a collapse in ridership amid the coronavirus pandemic and are seeking billions of dollars in additional assistance after Congress approved $25 billion in April. The U.S. passenger railroad Amtrak also is seeking a new $3 billion infusion of public funds.
Passenger airlines, which have received $25 billion in payroll assistance from Congress, have laid off more than 32,000 workers and are seeking more public funding to bring back workers.
Congress is considering legislation to change how the Federal Aviation Administration certifies new airplanes after two fatal crashes involving Boeing Co 737 MAX planes.
Another issue will be how Biden’s administration deals with vehicle fuel-efficiency requirements. Trump’s administration in March finalized a rollback of U.S. standards to require 1.5% annual increases in efficiency through 2026, well below the 5% yearly boosts in Obama-era rules that it discarded.
(Reporting by Julia Harte, Jarrett Renshaw and David Shepardson; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Alistair Bell)