New to DC, Buttigieg looks to build bridges with Biden plan

President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg meet with Vice President Kamala Harris and members of the House of Representatives in the Oval Office of the White House to discuss infrastructure.

WASHINGTON — Pete Buttigieg was a few weeks into his job as transportation secretary, buried in meetings and preparing for the launch of President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion public works plan, when evening arrived along with a time to try something new in Washington.

Instead of climbing into the back seat of a black SUV like most Cabinet secretaries, he headed to a bike-share rack. Helmet on, and with a couple of Secret Service agents flanking him, he pedaled the mile-long trip to his home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

It wasn’t a one-time stunt. On Thursday, Buttigieg arrived at the White House for a Cabinet meeting on his two-wheeler. And that wasn’t his only “regular guy” moment. Dog park devotees in the District of Columbia have also seen him there, chatting with anyone from children to members of Congress such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

Buttigieg first had his eye on the job of the man who is now his boss, Biden. Buttigieg’s presidential campaign was surprisingly successful — he essentially tied for first with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses and finished a close second to him in the New Hampshire primary — and he made a strong impression as someone who represented the future of the Democratic Party.

Now the man known during his campaign as “Mayor Pete” — he was the mayor of South Bend, Ind. — faces the first test of that potential in his first job in Washington: leading a Cabinet department with a $75 billion annual budget and a mandate to help spur an infrastructure program that Biden has likened to the building of the interstate highway system in the 1950s.

He will have to navigate the complicated politics of both an entrenched bureaucracy at the Transportation Department and the fraught politics of a bitterly divided Washington.

He may have found a way by just riding a bike, which has gained fans from even skeptics in Congress.

“You’ve got to keep your head up,” Buttigieg told the Associated Press, explaining the path and potential dangers posed from unaccustomed drivers, but he said it can be a much quicker journey from point A to B.

Biden on Thursday tasked Buttigieg and four other Cabinet members — the “Jobs Cabinet” — with selling the administration’s infrastructure and climate plan, money for roads, bridges, airports, broadband communications, water systems and electric cars.

But the plan has already hit a wall with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who objects to the corporate tax increases Biden says will pay for the plan and pledges to oppose it “every step of the way.” On the other side, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, says the package should be significantly larger.

The challenge of helping build consensus fits the ambition of Buttigieg. When Biden selected the Naval reserve veteran for the transportation post, he praised him as offering “a new voice with new ideas determined to move past old politics.”

In an interview, Buttigieg said he believes that bipartisan consensus is attainable.

“I’ve had enough conversations, especially the one-on-one conversations away from the cameras with members from both sides of the aisle, to know there really is a sincere interest in getting this done,” Buttigieg told the AP. “Now politics can get in the way of that of course. But I think unlike a lot of other issues where there is just deep passionately felt profound disagreement about what to do, here there’s a really healthy overlap in terms of our ideas about what has to happen, even if there is a lot of difference on how to get there.”

Translation? Republicans like smooth roads and fast internet for their constituents, too. But so far, there is no indication Republicans share his position.

He’s pledging to promote public transit and other green alternatives to gas-guzzling cars and apply an “equity lens” to infrastructure projects.

Republicans describe the former McKinsey consultant as likable and open-minded, even if they wonder at times about his actual level of sway on legislation.

Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, the top Republican on a key panel overseeing highways, said he’s talked with Buttigieg twice, once at a meeting with Biden and a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the White House. He called the conversations “really good.”

“I’m very excited to be able to work with him,” said Davis, a cyclist back home in his rural district, who thinks the former mayor can bring a valuable street-level perspective to filling potholes and easing congested streets.

“If he wants to go for a ride to discuss bike lanes and public transit, I’d welcome that,” he said.

Though the youngest Cabinet member at age 39, Buttigieg possesses a star power matched by few others in the group. He did have one recent stumble: He had to quickly walk back a plan to charge drivers per mile they drove. It’s a proposal that has some support among Republicans but could violate Biden’s campaign pledge not to raise taxes on people earning less than $400,000.

Buttigieg has impressed West Wing aides with his work ethic and willingness to learn. The president’s advisers also hold warm feelings toward the former mayor for his decision last spring to quickly endorse Biden after abandoning his own campaign, helping accelerate the end of the Democratic primary contest.

He knew when to get out. He’ll probably know when to get back in, too, if he does.

“He has incredible political talent and skill,” said Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton, Ohio, a longtime friend and 2020 campaign supporter. “But part of that talent and skill is having really great political timing.”

On that front, she sees his work on infrastructure not as “part of this grand plan on his next move,” but rather as a demonstration of his ability to focus on the task at hand.

(12) comments

Jim Klukkert

Joseph Tafoya and other conservatives may question the qualifications of this extremely intelligent and well spoken gentleman, but conservatives were no where to be found during the controversial tenure of the previous Secretary of Transportation, Mrs. Mitch McConnell, better known as Elaine Chao. Ms. Chao is the daughter of the billionaire head of the Foremost Group. Her financial relationship, as well as Mitch McConnell’s relationship, with her father led to investigations into whether she used political office to benefit her family's business interests, as well as charges by the DOT’s Inspector General of conflicts of interests.

Previous, The Washington Post wrote towards the end of Chao's role as Labor Secretary (2001–2009) that the Labor Department under her was "widely criticized for walking away from its regulatory function across a range of issues, including wage and hour law and workplace safety”.

So lots of stones to throw around all the glass houses. Let he or she who is without sin cast the first.

Or perhaps give Pete Buttigieg, graduate of Harvard College and Oxford University, and Rhodes Scholars, and later, US Navy intelligence officer, a crack at getting things done. Sorta thinking Joe wouldn’t pick a real wrong guy for a job so close to Biden’s heart.

Daniel Valdez

The perpetual deflection, sidestepping, lies, and left-wing propaganda from the Jim K vault...

The true crimes and conflicts of interest are the business dealings Hunter Biden had with China while his daddy was vice president.

Jim Klukkert

Daniel Valdez- Should I cling to the forlorn hope that you will one day actually substantiate your charge that I have ever lied on these pages.

Or shall I just keep laughing and laughing, that you are so incensed that you will publicly shame yourself with such fiction! [beam]

Joseph Tafoya

Here we have a person with no engineering experience. A literature major and we also have a lifetime politician rubber-stamping whatever he proposes. What could go wrong?

Richard Irell

Where’s Jimmy Carter when you need him.

Jim Klukkert


Daniel Valdez

“... By calling attention to a well-regulated militia for the security of the Nation, and the right of each citizen to keep and bear arms, our founding fathers recognized the essentially civilian nature of our economy. Although it is extremely unlikely that the fear of governmental tyranny, which gave rise to the 2nd amendment, will ever be a major danger to our Nation, the amendment still remains an important declaration of our basic military-civilian relationship, in which every citizen must be ready to participate in the defense of his country. For that reason I believe the 2nd Amendment will always be important.” -John F. Kennedy

According to today's standards, JFK would be considered Republican.

Jim Klukkert

No Daniel Valdez, that is not correct at all.

Richard Irell

Imagine what could go wrong when a government and business major like JFK could have a vision of putting a man on the moon in 1o years.

Jim Klukkert


Michael Kiley

A quantum jump from Trump's 'duh, let the states do it and pay for it' and McConnell's 'full speed backwards.'

Jim Klukkert


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