• Pete Buttigieg has been tapped to become transportation secretary. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Buttigieg Tapped to Become First Openly Gay Person Confirmed to Cabinet Role

By |2020-12-16T11:36:06-05:00December 16th, 2020|National, News|

Pete Buttigieg, who made history in the 2020 primary before dropping out and endorsing Joe Biden, has won the nod to become the first openly gay person to take a Cabinet post that requires Senate confirmation, the Washington Blade has confirmed.

Buttigieg, who previously served as mayor of South Bend, Ind., is set to be nominated for transportation secretary. CNN was first to report the news.

Amid media reports in Axios, CNN and the Daily Beast that Buttigieg was in contention for the job, a Democratic insider told the Blade Buttigieg was heavily lobbying the transition team for the role.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris also “leaned in heavily” to promote Buttigieg to become transportation secretary, a Democratic insider told the Blade. The two bonded during preparations for the vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City when Buttigieg stood in for Mike Pence, the Democratic insider said.

The news comes after the Blade reported last week some in the LGBTQ community were unhappy with LGBTQ movement leaders for not being more vocal in calling for the nomination of an openly LGBTQ Cabinet secretary. After all, other minority groups, including Black and Latino leaders, were more openly pushing for Cabinet appointments and getting key appointments as a result, unlike the LGBTQ community as of last week.

At the same time, Buttigieg had been turning down roles in Biden’s Cabinet. Buttigieg told Annise Parker, CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, he wouldn’t pursue the role of secretary of veterans affairs despite media speculation he was in contention for the job, according to two Democratic sources.

One Democratic insider said Buttigieg rejected the role of director of Office of Management & Budget, and said he wanted a position in the “real Cabinet” and not a “staff-level” job.

Buttigieg had previously sought the position of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, but the nomination ended up going to Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a Foreign Service officer with years of experience.

Annise Parker, CEO of LGBTQ Victory Institute, hailed the news Buttigieg would be nominated as transportation secretary as “a new milestone in a decades-long effort to ensure LGBTQ people are represented throughout our government.”

“It distances our nation from a troubled legacy of barring out LGBTQ people from government positions and moves us closer to the president-elect’s vision of a government that reflects America,” Parker said. “As an out LGBTQ person, Pete will bring a unique perspective that will inform and influence policy throughout the federal government. Most important, however, is that Pete will bring his intellect and energy to the Department of Transportation and our nation will be better off because of it.”

Biden following initial news reports confirmed in a statement he had nominated Buttigieg as transportation secretary, calling him “a patriot and a problem-solver who speaks to the best of who we are as a nation.”

“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 added. “Jobs, infrastructure, equity and climate all come together at the DOT, the site of some of our most ambitious plans to build back better. 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.”

Despite the historic first Buttigieg is set to achieve, he won’t be the first openly gay person to serve as a Cabinet official. That distinction belongs to Richard Grenell, who was acting director of national intelligence during the Trump administration before he resigned and became the face LGBTQ outreach for the Trump campaign.

Grenell, however, never won Senate confirmation for the acting DNI job, even though the chamber approved him for his concurrent role as U.S. ambassador to Germany. Buttigieg, therefore, will have the distinction of being the first openly gay person confirmed by the Senate for a Cabinet-level position, provided he wins Senate confirmation.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who supported Buttigieg during the Democratic primary, hailed news the former candidate was selected to become transportation secretary as “a brilliant and historic appointment.”

“President-elect Joe Biden has again shown his commitment to diversity and made history with the first-ever nomination of an openly gay American to lead a Cabinet department,” Beyer said. “As Secretary Foxx and others have demonstrated previously, local elected leaders understand transportation from the most important perspective: That last mile to your home or business. Pete Buttigieg’s leadership and work to spark investment helped bring about a renaissance in South Bend.”

On the campaign trail, Buttigieg had expressed a desire for overhauling the nation’s infrastructure. In November 2019 during the Abby Finkenauer Fish Fry in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Buttigieg said he was genuinely surprised President Trump didn’t fulfill his campaign promise to take on infrastructure reform.

“Worse, they put out this infrastructure plan they were talking about, and the plan was for us — local and state governments — to do most of the work, which is how it works right now,” Buttigieg said. “We cannot go on like this.”

Buttigieg said as South Bend mayor he’d get a call when there’s a hole in the road, but would only get enough funding to redo every road “every 25 years or so.”

“So, we need federal leadership to build first-rate infrastructure in the United States of America,” Buttigieg said, “including $100 billion to help build out local transit and transportation systems, because that helps our economies locally, including leadership on roads, bridges, and rail, which is a big part of our future, including those unsexy pieces of infrastructure like wastewater and I could spend a whole hour on wastewater but I promise not to.”

Buttigieg also said digital infrastructure was a big part of the plan and called for $80 billion “to make sure that every household in America, either by wireless or by fiber, can get high-quality internet access.”

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a Republican who served in Obama’s Cabinet, said Biden’s choice of Buttigieg to lead the department is “a good pick,” according to Axios.

“It sends a loud message to mayors and to cities that they count,” LaHood is quoted as saying. “It’s where the action is on putting people to work.”

Buttigieg will face during his confirmation process a Senate that will be at best a 50-50 split or under Republican control, depending on the outcome of the upcoming run-off election in Georgia for two U.S. Senate seats.

The Blade has placed a request in with both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation seeking comment on news Buttigieg would be nominated as transportation secretary.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee, said in a statement Buttigieg’s experience as mayor makes him a good nominee as transportation secretary.

“A major, historic investment in our crumbling infrastructure must be a top priority for the Biden administration, and will require vision and leadership from a new transportation secretary,” Blumenthal added. “I look forward to speaking with Mayor Buttigieg about his vision for the Department of Transportation and how he plans to work with Congress to achieve it.”

This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.

About the Author:

Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association.