Biden introduces former rival Pete Buttigieg as transportation chief in ‘historic’ US Cabinet

Biden announces Buttigieg's nomination during a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware. PHOTO: AFP
Buttigieg (right) endorses Biden (left) as the Democratic presidential candidate in Dallas, Texas, in March 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

WILMINGTON, DELAWARE (REUTERS) -President-elect Joe Biden touted the diversity of his incoming administration as he introduced former rival Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday (Dec 16) as his choice for US transportation secretary.

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, would be the first openly gay Cabinet secretary confirmed by the Senate if he is approved.

Appearing with Buttigieg in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden said the 38-year-old would confront the task of upgrading America's ageing infrastructure and restoring what he called "our crumbling roads, bridges and ports."

"The Biden-Harris Cabinet will be a historic Cabinet - a Cabinet that looks like America, a Cabinet that taps into the best of America, a Cabinet that is opening doors and breaking down barriers and accessing the full range of talent... in this nation," Biden said as he puts forth what is shaping up to be the most diverse Cabinet in US history.

Buttigieg's nomination, which requires Senate confirmation, caps a political rise that saw him emerge from obscurity to mount a surprisingly robust campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination eventually won by Biden. A military veteran who served in Afghanistan, Buttigieg is in the vanguard of the next generation of Democratic politicians and is widely seen as a future presidential contender.

"I'm also 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," Buttigieg said.

When Buttigieg ended his campaign and endorsed Biden in March, Biden offered him high praise, saying the Indiana native reminded him of his late son, Beau.

As transportation secretary, Buttigieg would oversee a sprawling federal agency that regulates the nation's airlines, transit systems and interstate highways. Buttigieg would also play a central role in Biden's proposed infrastructure and environmental initiatives, including plans to add 500,000 charging stations nationwide for electric vehicles.

"Americans shouldn't settle for less than our peers in the developed world when it comes to our roads and bridges, our railways and transit systems. The US should lead the way, and I know that in this administration we will," Buttigieg said.

"This administration can deliver policies and resources that will create jobs, rise to the climate challenge, and equitably serve all Americans, all while continuing to ensure the safety of travelers and workers alike," Buttigieg added.

The outline of Biden's climate change team is growing clearer. Sources told Reuters on Tuesday that Biden intends to make Gina McCarthy, the former Environmental Protection Agency head, his domestic climate "czar" and former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm his energy secretary.

Biden has methodically assembled his administration despite President Donald Trump's refusal to concede the election. The Republican president has made unfounded claims of widespread fraud in the Nov 3 election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a crucial Republican congressional supporter of Trump's agenda, became the most senior member of his party to acknowledge Biden's win, drawing the president's ire.

"Too soon to give up. Republican Party must finally learn to fight," Trump wrote on Twitter.

Biden, who served as vice president under the nation's first Black president, Barack Obama, has vowed to build a government that reflects the country's diversity.

In addition to Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris, who will become the first black person, Asian American and woman to serve as the nation's No. 2, Biden has named multiple women and minorities to Cabinet-level positions.

They include Janet Yellen, who would be the first female treasury secretary; Lloyd Austin, who would be the first black defence secretary; and Alejandro Mayorkas, who would be the first immigrant and first Latino to head the homeland security department.

Though Buttigieg is seen as a rising star within the party, some liberal groups and Black activists criticised him during the campaign for not doing enough as South Bend mayor to address racial inequality.

Biden and Harris also plan to meet virtually with US state governors later on Wednesday.

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