Pete Buttigieg opened his confirmation hearing for secretary of Transportation Thursday morning by laying out his vision for the department — and thanking his husband, Chasten Buttigieg.
The nominee introduced his husband, who sat behind him, masked, in the hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, saying, “I’m really proud to have him by my side. I also want to take this chance to thank him for his many sacrifices and his support in making it possible for me to pursue public service.”
If confirmed, Pete Buttigieg would be the first out member of the LGBTQ+ committee to receive Senate confirmation for a Cabinet position. During Donald Trump’s administration, Richard Grenell, who is gay, served briefly as acting director of national intelligence, a Cabinet-level post, but because he held the position on an interim basis, he did not require Senate confirmation for it.
Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., who sought the Democratic presidential nomination last year, also thanked President Joe Biden for nominating him to the lead the Department of Transportation and noted what he’d like to accomplish at the department. At 39, he’d be the youngest secretary of Transportation ever as well as the first millenial Cabinet member.
“Safety is the foundation of the department’s mission, and that takes on new meaning amid this pandemic,” Buttigieg said. The nation must assure the safety of airline travel, public transportation, and other systems as it seeks to defeat COVID-19, he continued.
Improving infrastructure, he said, can play a major role in revitalizing an economy devastated by the pandemic, by creating jobs that pay well and helping U.S. businesses compete globally. Infrastructure is likewise important in the battle against climate change, he noted.
“But I also recognize that at their worst, misguided policies and missed opportunities in transportation can reinforce racial and economic inequality, by dividing or isolating neighborhoods and undermining government’s basic role of empowering Americans to thrive,” he said.
“While Buttigieg’s experience in the transportation field is slim, he earned praise in South Bend for reworking downtown streets to make them safer and more enjoyable for pedestrians and cyclists,” The Washington Post notes. “As a presidential candidate, he issued detailed plans that included a national Vision Zero policy to eliminate traffic deaths, a decade-long blitz to repair roads and bridges and a major expansion of public transportation.”
Several Democratic senators have expressed faith in Buttigieg’s abilities. “I am confident that he will be an effective advocate for the major infrastructure package that we desperately need while also working tirelessly to make our transportation systems more equitable, efficient and sustainable,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois said in a statement, according to the Post.
Buttigieg and his husband attended the inauguration of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris Wednesday, and the former mayor has been making the rounds of talk shows. He appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe early on inauguration day, then was on NBC’s The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon Wednesday night (watch below).
He talked to Fallon about his ambitions for the Biden administration and his interest in transportation, which some see as a “nerdy topic” but is something he finds fascinating. He also spoke about having, as a teenager, seen a gay man (James Hormel) denied a hearing on an ambassadorial nomination simply because he was gay. President Bill Clinton ended up making a recess appointment to install Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg without Senate confirmation.
Buttigieg said he hopes that what happens with his nomination “sends a different, better, opposite message to some kid who’s watching right now, that you have every right to belong, every right to serve, every right to be part of this country.” His nomination may receive a Senate vote as early as today.