WASHINGTON – Pete Buttigieg was a teenager, not yet openly gay, and dreamed of becoming an airline pilot when he saw Republicans in the late 1990s turn down a confirmation vote for President Bill Clinton’s choice as ambassador to Luxembourg because of their sexual orientation.
Mississippi Republican Senator Trent Lott, then majority leader, called homosexuality a sin and compared it to personal problems such as alcoholism, kleptomania and sex addiction. Blocked by his opponents, Mr. Clinton used a date to send James Hormel, a San Francisco philanthropist and heir to a butcher’s fortune, abroad.
Now, two decades later, Mr. Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., And earlier this year a leading opponent of the race of Joseph R. Biden Jr., is set to become the first secretary. openly gay cabinet after Mr Biden, now president-elect, picked him to head the transportation department. Mr Buttigieg recalled the memory of adolescence in brief remarks on Wednesday.
“I watched this story and learned something about some of the limits that exist in this country when it comes to who is allowed to belong,” he said. “But just as important, I saw how these limits could be challenged.”
Mr Biden sitting nearby during his remarks, Mr Buttigieg recalled proposing to her husband, Chasten Buttigieg, in an airport terminal – “Don’t let anyone tell you that O’Hare is not romantic” , he joked – and thanked the president-elect for not having hesitated in the face of the historic appointment.
“I can’t help but think of a 17-year-old somewhere who might be watching us right now, someone wondering if and where he belongs in the world, or even in his own family, and I think about the message today’s announcement sends them, ”said Buttigieg.
The story was also clearly on Mr. Biden’s mind. Although he has been shaken by demands from Democratic interest groups in recent weeks, the president-elect said he remains committed to building a cabinet that is not only qualified but also reflects the diversity of the American population.
Mr Biden, who seemed annoyed by public and private criticism of his choices so far, said when he was done he would have “a cabinet of barrier breakers, a cabinet of firsts” unlike any of his. predecessors.
“We’ll have more people of color than any cabinet, ever. We will have more women than any cabinet, ever, ”he said, noting that he chose the first black defense secretary, the first Latino head of homeland security, the first South woman. Asian-American to head the budget department and the first woman to be secretary of the treasury, among others. “Our firm has not just one or two of these firsts, but eight precedent-breaking appointments.”
“And today,” he added, “a ninth.”
There has never been an openly gay cabinet secretary. Under President Trump, Richard Grenell, who is, served as Acting Director of National Intelligence, a cabinet-level position that is not among the 15 cabinet positions defined by federal law. He also didn’t face confirmation from the Senate because Mr. Trump chose to make him an interim director.
The presidential transition
At 38, Mr. Buttigieg is also said to be one of the youngest cabinet secretaries in history. Julián Castro was 39 when President Barack Obama appointed him housing secretary in 2014. And Alexander Hamilton was in his thirties when he became the country’s first treasury secretary.
Like these two men, Mr. Buttigieg has higher ambitions. His run for president this year has taken him from obscurity to the upper echelons of the Democratic Party. From now on, it will have a national platform from which to continue to build a political identity.
But that could put him in direct competition with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, 56, who has also challenged Mr Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination and is almost certain to run for president again, possibly as early as 2024. , while this is expected. that Mr. Biden will not seek another term.
The couple expressed nothing but warmth to each other on Wednesday, at an event in Wilmington, Del. Ms. Harris, who joined the event by video due to a winter storm on the East Coast, called Mr. Buttigieg “a pioneering leader of the Industrial Midwest who understands we need to create opportunities for people from all walks of life. . Mr. Buttigieg thanked the Vice President-elect for “your innovative leadership, encouragement and friendship”.
The good feelings could quickly evaporate if Mr Buttigieg and Ms Harris come face to face in a primary campaign that could begin in just over two years. Or Mr. Buttigieg could defer to Ms. Harris, until he has a clearer path to the White House.
Mr Biden called Mr Buttigieg a “crazy big-hearted policy” and said he “picked Pete for transportation because the ministry stands at the intersection of some of our most ambitious plans to rebuild in better”.
If Mr Buttigieg wins confirmation as transport secretary, Mr Biden said he will play a key role in advancing his ambitious program to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and be a central responsible for the efforts. of the administration to fight against climate change.
Mr. Buttigieg supports restoring Obama-era vehicle emissions standards and carbon neutrality for the United States by 2050, priorities that align with the climate-focused role Mr. Biden wants for his department of transport. The agency has the power to regulate vehicle emissions, the main source of pollution from global warming in the United States.
Mr Buttigieg spoke of his own ‘personal love of transportation from childhood’, and he stressed the need to improve the country’s infrastructure, mocking Mr Trump for repeatedly declaring an ‘infrastructure week For failing to negotiate a bipartisan deal to secure more funding to repair the country’s crumbling roads and bridges.
“Americans expect us to ensure that the idea of an infrastructure week is associated with results and never again with a media line,” he said.