President-elect Biden has selected Pete Buttigieg to be Secretary of Transportation. Reportedly, Buttigieg had been considered for the post of U.S. ambassador to China. Fortunately, that won’t happen. The Chinese will be deprived of a good laugh.
Biden must have felt he had to give Buttigieg something. The former South Bend mayor is now America’s highest profile openly gay politician. Buttigieg proved his popularity by making a fairly substantial bid for the Democratic nomination. In fact, he outpolled Biden in Iowa and New Hampshire. (Kamala Harris didn’t even make that far.) It’s also possible that Biden promised Buttigieg a Cabinet-level job in exchange for his endorsement.
If so, heading the Transportation Department is probably at the low end of what Buttigieg hoped to receive from Biden. Traditionally, it’s rather a nothing job. The four most recent Senate confirmed Secretaries are Elaine Chao, Anthony Foxx, Ray La Hood, and Mary Peters.
Why did Buttigieg accept the position? Mainly, I think, because he has nowhere else to go. It’s unlikely that he could win a race for governor or Senator in Indiana, or even a seat in the U.S. House. If Buttigieg wants to gain national office one day — and he surely does — he needs to park himself in a place where he’s not invisible and, in the process, pick up a credential more substantial than mayor of a small city.
It’s also possible that the Secretary of Transportation will have a fairly high profile in a Biden-Harris administration. Chris Cillizza points out that Biden has made rebuilding America’s infrastructure a key goal of his presidency.
If Biden can get Congress to appropriate the money for this, Buttigieg would have a chance to shine (or fail). Kamala Harris may secretly be hoping that Buttigieg doesn’t get that chance.
Cillizza also speculates that, as a Cabinet member, Buttigieg will have the opportunity go on television frequently, thereby becoming “one of the best-known public faces of the administration.” Buttigieg will get these opportunities, says Cillizza, because he’s good on TV.
That, Buttigieg is. But the idea of having the Transportation Secretary speak for the administration on issues of major importance seems odd. Maybe the administration will decide to boost Buttigieg anyway, but probably not if Kamala Harris has any say in the matter.