Pete Buttigieg’s historic cabinet role poised for speedy Senate confirmation as Joe Biden sets about rescuing America

Former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks as US President-elect Joe Biden looks on after he was nominated to be Secretary of Transportation

Pete Buttigieg is poised for a swift confirmation hearing on Thursday (21 January), just one day after Joe Biden takes office.

The former South Bend mayor and presidential hopeful requires confirmation by the Senate for his new role as secretary of transportation, which will make him the first out gay cabinet member to be Senate-confirmed.

Controversial gay Trump loyalist Richard Grenell previously occupied a cabinet seat on an acting basis for three months while another nominee was approved by the Senate, but no out LGBT+ person has ever held a full-time role.

Buttigieg will be among the first of Biden’s nominees to face a Senate grilling, going before members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Thursday (21 January), just a day after the new president takes office.

A full vote in the Senate is then required to confirm Buttigieg after the committee hearing, which is yet to be scheduled.

While Republicans had planned to use their majority in the Senate to obstruct many of Biden’s appointees, Democrats are set to regain control of the chamber thanks to upsets in Georgia, allowing confirmations to proceed apace without support from the GOP.

Former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg

Former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg (Getty/KEVIN LAMARQUE)

With a 50-50 split in the chamber between the two parties, it could come down to incoming vice president Kamala Harris to break tied votes, assuming no Republicans accept the Democratic nominees.

The role will put Buttigieg, a Democratic rising star with continued ambitions to seek high office, in charge of the department’s $72 billion budget and 58,000-strong workforce.

In addition to overseeing the country’s transport infrastructure, the history-making role for Buttigieg will be pivotal in helping to shape the agenda of the Biden administration on climate change, seeking to reduce emissions from the transportation sector.

Pete Buttigieg is proud to be the first gay cabinet nominee sent to Senate.

Buttigieg noted the historical importance of his appointment as he accepted the nomination last month, noting the different climate when the nation’s first openly gay ambassador, James Hormel, was appointed by Bill Clinton.

He said: “I’m mindful that the eyes of history are on this appointment, knowing that this is the first time an American president has ever sent an openly LGBTQ cabinet member to the Senate for confirmation.

“I can remember watching the news at 17 years old, in Indiana, and seeing a story about an appointee of president Clinton named to be an ambassador, attacked and denied a vote in the Senate because he was gay. Ultimately able to serve only by recess appointment.

“At the time I had no aspirations of being appointed by a president to anything at that age, I was hoping to be an airline pilot, and I was a long way from coming out even to myself.

“But still, I watched that story and I learned something about some of the limits that exist in this country when it comes to who is allowed to belong. Just as important, I saw how those limits, could be challenged.”

Buttigieg continued: “Two decades later, I can’t help but think of a 17 year old somewhere who might be watching us right now.

“Somebody who wonders whether and where they belong in the world, or even in their own family. And I’m thinking about the message that today’s announcement is sending to them.

“So thank you, Mr President-elect. Thank you for honouring your commitment to diversity with this administration that you are assembling. And thank you Madam Vice President-elect for your trailblazing leadership, your encouragement and your friendship.

“There is no greater source of meaning in professional life than the chance to serve others.

“I felt that meaning every time I laced up my boots when I was in the military. Every time I came to work when I was a mayor. And I feel it here now, joining this historic team with such an important mission, preparing to deliver for all Americans.”