President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet is shaping up to be a team of “firsts,” and he introduced yet another of his history-making nominations Wednesday: Pete Buttigieg as his pick to lead the Department of Transportation.
If confirmed, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, would be the first openly gay member of a presidential Cabinet to be confirmed by the Senate.
“This Cabinet will be the most representative of any Cabinet in American history,” Biden said before formally introducing Buttigieg as his nominee. “We’ll have a Cabinet of barrier breakers, a Cabinet of firsts.”
Biden said Buttigieg is his ninth “precedent-busting” pick -- his previous ones include, most notably, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who will be the first woman to serve in that role; Alejandro Mayorkas to head the Department of Homeland Security, who would be the first Latino in that role; and retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin as defense secretary, who would be the first Black American in the role.
Biden described Buttigieg as “one of the smartest people you’ll ever meet,” a “management expert,” “a policy wonk with a big heart” and a “new voice with new ideas determined to move past old politics.”
“What I admire about Pete is, he’s always clear about who he is, what he believes and how he wants to bring people in, not exclude them,” he said before turning the podium over to Buttigieg.
After discussing his experience in the infrastructure and transportation space, Buttigieg acknowledged 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.”
Buttigieg, who said he even proposed to his husband in an airport terminal, recalled seeing a news story as a teenager in Indiana about James Hormel, President Bill Clinton’s pick for ambassador to Luxembourg, who, Buttigieg recalled, was “attacked and denied a vote in the Senate because he was gay, ultimately able to serve only by a recess appointment.”
“I learned something about some of the limits that exist in this country when it comes to who is allowed to belong, but just as important, I saw how those limits could be challenged,” he said of watching the Hormel story. “So, 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.”
Even before Biden formally announced Buttigieg as his pick to lead the Department of Transportation, LGBTQ advocates were celebrating.
“Pete’s nomination is a new milestone in a decadeslong effort to ensure LGBTQ people are represented throughout our government – and its impact will reverberate well beyond the department he will lead,” Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, said in a statement.“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.”
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, said Buttigieg’s “voice as a champion for the LGBTQ community in the Cabinet room will help President-elect Biden build back our nation better, stronger and more equal than before.”
“This is a historic moment for our community, though not the end of our advocacy,” David said in a statement. “We have and will continue to engage with the Biden-Harris Transition team to ensure that LGBTQ people will be appointed at all levels of government and that those appointments will reflect the full diversity of our community, including and especially LGBTQ people of color and transgender and gender-nonconforming people.
While Buttigieg is expected to be the first openly gay presidential Cabinet member confirmed by the Senate, he will not be the first overall. That distinction belongs to Richard Grenell, who served as acting director of national intelligence under President Donald Trump from February to May.