President-elect Joe Biden Wednesday formally announced that he will nominate Pete Buttigieg to be secretary of the Department of Transportation, and he touted the diversity of his Cabinet choices, while Buttigieg talked about both his qualifications and the importance of representation.
The news leaked Tuesday that Buttigieg would be the nominee. If the Senate approves him, he would be the first out member of the LGBTQ+ community to be a Senate-confirmed Cabinet secretary.
Biden, speaking from Wilmington, Del., said his Cabinet picks "are people of the highest character, of varied experiences and backgrounds, who will help us beat the pandemic, keep us safe and secure, and build our economy back better than ever."
He noted that his Cabinet "will be the most representative of any in our history" and "a Cabinet of firsts." It will have more women and people of color than any other, including the first woman Treasury secretary and the first Black secretary of Defense.
"Our Cabinet does not just have one first or just two of these firsts, but eight precedent-busting appointments," Biden said. "And today, a ninth: the first-ever openly gay nominee to lead a Cabinet department, and one of the youngest Cabinet members ever."
Richard Grenell, a gay man, served briefly as acting director of national intelligence in the Trump administration, a Cabinet-level position, but since his service was on an acting basis it did not require Senate confirmation, although he had been confirmed by the Senate as ambassador to Germany.
Biden talked about getting to know Buttigieg on the campaign trail, as Buttigieg sought the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, then endorsed and campaigned for Biden after dropping out of the race. "One of the smartest people you will ever meet. And one of the most humble," Biden said of Buttigieg. "Mayor from the heartland, a management expert, and a policy wonk with a big heart." Buttigieg is a military veteran, former business consultant, and former mayor of South Bend, Ind.
"His husband is an educator -- always a mark of good character," the president-elect continued. "Jill and I always enjoyed seeing Pete and Chasten together on the trail."
"Pete's got the perspective of a mayor that solves problems and brings people together," Biden added, noting that he will entrust Buttigieg with leading efforts to rebuild infrastructure, combat climate change, and create jobs in renewable energy.
When Buttigieg took the stage after Biden, he noted that his hometown of South Bend has been a center of river transportation, a railroad hub, and home to aerospace and automotive manufacturing.
"I've also had a personal love of transportation ever since childhood," he said. "More than once, as a college student, I would convince a friend to travel nearly a thousand miles back to Indiana on Amtrak, though I know that in this administration, I will at best be the second biggest train enthusiast [Biden is noted for his frequent Amtrak trips]. I spent a spring break in graduate school studying on board a cargo ship.
"Travel in my mind is synonymous with adventure, growth, and, even love, so much so that I proposed to my husband, Chasten, in an airport terminal. Don't let anyone tell you O'Hare isn't romantic. And let me take this chance to thank Chasten for all that he does, and for his sacrifices, to support me in pursuing public service."
After discussing transportation issues, he added, "I am also mindful that the eyes of history are on this appointment -- knowing this is the first time an American president has ever sent an openly LGBTQ cabinet nominee to the Senate for confirmation. I can remember watching the news, 17 years old, and seeing a story about an appointee of President Clinton [James Hormel], named to be an ambassador, attacked and ultimately denied a vote in the Senate, because he was gay -- ultimately able to serve only by a recess appointment.
"At the time I had no aspirations, then, of being appointed by a president to anything -- at that age, I was hoping to be an airline pilot. And I was a long way from coming out, even to myself. But still, I watched that story, and I learned about some of the limits that exist in this country when it comes to who is allowed to belong. And just as important, I saw how those limits could be challenged.
"So two decades later, I can't help but think of a 17-year-old who might be watching right now, someone who wonders whether and where they belong in the world, or even in their own family, and I'm thinking about the message today's announcement is sending to them. So thank you, Mr. President-elect, for honoring your commitment to diversity with this administration you're assembling. And thank you, Madam Vice President-elect, for your trailblazing leadership, your encouragement, and your friendship."
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris then appeared on-screen and said Buttigieg would help build and maintain "a transportation system that will help us grow our economy, tackle our climate crisis, and connect all Americans to jobs and opportunity."
She mentioned that she too, as a presidential hopeful and later Biden's running mate, had spent much time with Buttigieg over the past two years. "And along the way, Pete and his wonderful husband, Chasten, have become very dear friends of Doug's and mine," she said (Doug Emhoff is her husband).
She complimented Buttigieg as "an innovative problem solver" with "a sharp intellect and a deep commitment to uniting people across party lines and meeting our challenges together."
"Now Pete will bring his remarkable talents to bear -- not just on behalf of the people of South Bend, but on behalf of people across our nation," she concluded.