President-elect Joe Biden has announced Pete Buttigieg, one of Biden’s rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, as his choice to be secretary of transportation.
The 38-year-old Buttigieg is the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and, if confirmed, will be the first LGBTQ Cabinet secretary approved by the US Senate.
Buttigieg, who has never held federal office, showed significant electoral strength during his 2020 presidential bid, growing from an unknown midwestern mayor to the co-winner – with Senator Bernie Sanders – of the February Iowa caucuses, defeating Biden and a large field of much better-known Democrats.
In subsequent primaries, however, Buttigieg’s support dwindled and in March he dropped out of the race, throwing his support behind Biden at a time when moderate, establishment Democrats were coalescing behind the former vice president.
Rumours of Buttigieg landing somewhere in Biden’s administration have persisted for a few weeks, including reports of a potential appointment to be the US ambassador to China.
As transportation secretary, he would put to use his background in urban affairs by taking charge of a sprawling federal agency that oversees US highways, air travel and transit systems.
In a statement, Biden’s transition team praised Buttigieg as “a barrier-breaking public servant from the industrial Midwest with a track record of trailblazing, forward-thinking executive leadership.”
Despite being viewed as a rising star within the party, Buttigieg’s potential nomination to a Cabinet post has been opposed by a number of progressive groups and Black leaders who have criticised his record on civil rights.
During the Democratic primary, Buttigieg faced fierce criticism from African American activists, who argued he did not do enough as mayor to battle systemic racism in South Bend and help Black residents share in the city’s economic revitalisation. Buttigieg has long disputed that critique.
On a call with reporters on Tuesday, Jordan Giger, a Black Lives Matter leader in South Bend, called Buttigieg “completely unqualified” for a Cabinet-level position.
Biden has appeared largely unconcerned by liberal complaints about appointments to his administration, preferring to reward those who demonstrated loyalty to his campaign when it was struggling to build support.
At the March event where Buttigieg endorsed Biden, Biden compared Buttigieg with his late son, Beau.
“To me, it’s the highest compliment I can give any man or woman. And, like Beau, he has a backbone like a ramrod,” Biden said.
“I promise you, over your lifetime, you’re going to end up seeing a hell of a lot more of Pete than you are of me.”