WILMINGTON, Del. (NewsNation Now) — President-elect Joe Biden formally introduced Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, as his administration’s choice to lead the U.S. Transportation Department on Wednesday.
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris announced their nominee in an event from Wilmington, Delaware, on Wednesday.
If confirmed, Buttigieg would be the first openly gay person confirmed by the Senate to a Cabinet post.
During the event Wednesday, Buttigieg referenced a Bill Clinton-era ambassadorial nominee whose nomination was blocked by Senate Republicans because of his sexuality.
Clinton eventually used a recess appointment to make Ambassador James Hormel his envoy to Luxembourg in 1997 after Sen. Majority Leader Trent Lott refused to allow Hormel a floor vote.
Buttigieg, who was 17 at the time but not yet out, recalled following the news of the fight over Hormel’s nomination and being struck by “some of the limits that exist in this country.”
“So two decades later, I can’t help but think of a 17-year-old somewhere who might be watching us right now,” Buttigieg said. “And I’m thinking about the message that today’s announcement is sending to them.”
Biden again promised on Wednesday that his Cabinet will be more representative of the American people than any other in U.S. history.
He said there will be more people of color and more women in his Cabinet than any other before, including the first Black defense secretary and the first Latino to head the Department of Health and Human Services.
As transportation secretary, Buttigieg would oversee a sprawling federal agency that regulates the nation’s airlines, transit systems and interstate highways. He would be responsible for implementing Biden’s proposed infrastructure and environmental initiatives, including plans to add 500,000 charging stations nationwide for electric vehicles.
He’ll also face decisions regarding Biden’s proposals to immediately mandate mask-wearing on airplanes and public transportation systems to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Buttigieg, who has never held federal office, became a leading figure in national politics when he was among those who challenged Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination this year.
Initially written off as the leader of a relatively small town competing against far more established figures, Buttigieg zeroed in on a message of generational change to finish the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses in a virtual tie with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
When Buttigieg ended his campaign and endorsed Biden in March, Biden offered him high praise, saying the Indiana native reminded him of his late son, Beau.
Biden’s decision to nominate Buttigieg to the transportation post drew praise from LGBTQ rights groups, with one calling it “a new milestone in a decades-long effort” to have LGBTQ representation in the U.S. government.
“Its impact will reverberate well-beyond the department he will lead,” added Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Institute.
But the nomination has also been opposed by a number of progressive groups and Black leaders, who have criticized his civil rights record.
The South Bend chapter of Black Lives Matter, however, denounced Buttigieg’s pending nomination. The group had made their displeasure of Buttigieg known during his presidential campaign, following the 2019 South Bend shooting of a Black man by a white police officer.
“We saw Black communities have their houses torn down by his administration,” BLM’s South Bend leader Jorden Giger said in a statement, referring to Buttigieg’s effort to tear down substandard housing. “We saw the machinery of his police turned against Black people.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.