Biden hails transportation nominee Buttigieg as 'new voice'

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Former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee to be transportation secretary reacts to his nomination as Biden looks on during a news conference at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool via AP)

WILMINGTON, Del. – President-elect Joe Biden has introduced his one-time Democratic primary rival Pete Buttigieg as his nominee for transportation secretary, saying the 38-year-old can be “a new voice" in the fight against economic inequality, institutional racism and climate change.

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, would be the first openly gay person confirmed by the Senate to a Cabinet position. Biden hailed that milestone Wednesday while saying that by the time he's done filling out his new administration's top jobs, it will have more women and people of color than ever, including “a Cabinet that is opening doors and breaking down barriers, and accessing the full brains and talent we have so much of.”

Biden said Buttigieg offers "a new voice with new ideas determined to move past old politics.”

“We need someone who knows how to work with state, local and federal agencies,” Biden said, noting that highways are in disrepair and that some bridges “are on the verge of collapse.”

Beyond standard transportation fixes, which are easier to promise than for administrations to get through Congress, Biden wants to rejuvenate the post-coronavirus pandemic economy and create thousands of green jobs by making environmentally friendly retrofits and public works improvements.

The president-elect noted that much of the nation, including his home state of Delaware, faces the risk of rising sea levels. A more immediate challenge, though, will be enforcing Biden’s promised mask-wearing mandate for airplanes and public transportation systems to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“At its best, transportation makes the American dream possible, getting people and goods to where they need to be, directly and indirectly creating good-paying jobs,” Buttigieg said. “At its worst, misguided policies and missed opportunities can reinforce racial, economic and environmental injustice, dividing or isolating neighborhoods, undermining government's basic role to empower everyone to thrive.”

Buttigieg mentioned his affinity for trains while acknowledging that he would be only the “second-biggest” Amtrak enthusiast in the administration, given that Biden rode the rails for years between Washington and Wilmington, Delaware, while serving in the Senate.