Joe Biden has always had somewhat of a soft spot for the nation’s Transportation Department. After all, the President is arguably Amtrak’s most famous patron, having utilized the rail system as his primary mode of transportation throughout his 36-year career in the Senate. The confirmation of high profile 2020 presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg as Transportation Secretary earlier this week is yet another indication of the President’s commitment to the nation’s infrastructure and transportation systems.
As a former competitor of the President’s in the 2020 election, Secretary Buttigieg quickly gained celebrity status through his moniker “Mayor Pete” – a status most certainly lacked by his predecessors at DOT. Moreover, Buttigieg’s status as the first openly gay member of a presidential cabinet will no doubt supplement his existing media appeal. His predecessor Elaine Chao, although married to Senate Minority Leader McConnell, rarely gained media attention during her tenure, spare her resignation following the Capitol attack early last month.
The Biden Administration will certainly make ample use of “Secretary Mayor Pete’s” name recognition in legislative affairs. Clinging to a slim majority in the both the House and Senate, only just secured following last month’s special election in Georgia, President Biden will find it difficult to pass many progressive reforms favored by the left-wing of his party. This leaves the Administration likely focusing efforts on one of the more bipartisan issues Biden campaigned on – infrastructure.
Biden campaigned on an ambitious $2 trillion climate and infrastructure policy that will require massive political capital to make its way through Congress. Buttigieg’s name recognition and bipartisan appeal may just be the extra nudge needed to accomplish this major Biden Administration goal.
But hopes for an infrastructure package are high as Republicans and Democrats see it as vital to restoring the nation’s economic capabilities. President Trump often touted a potential infrastructure plan during his term in office, with seemingly every other week being declared ‘Infrastructure Week’, although the plan was never implemented. Additionally, with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging and unemployment rates still floundering at historic highs, such an infrastructure plan would also have major appeal as an economic stimulus, employing thousands of Americans, just like the Tennessee Valley Authority of the Depression Era. The popularity for infrastructure development is so high in fact that even before the pandemic, Pew Research found in February of last year that an overwhelming 83% of Americans favor investment in infrastructure as climate change induces more and more natural disasters year after year.
Secretary Buttigieg and the Biden administration are also fortunate enough to have Polly Trottenberg joining them as Deputy Secretary of Transportation. An Obama DOT veteran and former head of New York City’s DOT, Trottenberg will prove a valuable asset to Buttigieg as the small-town mayor navigates the new political terrain of Washington.
Buttigieg’s appointment doesn’t come without concerns, however. Some DOT insiders are concerned that the new Secretary might end up focused more on garnering media attention for the President’s ambitious new plans, than prioritizing the day-to-day operations and initiatives of the Department. Nonetheless, if Buttigieg has proven anything to the public through the course of his storied presidential bid, it’s that he’s more than just a charming young face to add to the mix of the octogenarians all too common in Washington’s chambers. Buttigieg has demonstrated that he is an astute political operative, with a strong eye for policy and an attention to detail that will be essential for his new position. It’s yet to be seen if his tenure at the Transportation Department will either yield the start of a fresh and vibrant new national political career or act as a grave disappointment to the young and hopeful Biden Administration.