Biden picks Buttigieg to lead transportation—drawing the ire of the progressive left

December 16, 2020, 1:22 PM UTC

On Tuesday, it emerged that President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Pete Buttigieg—the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and Biden’s former rival for the Democratic presidential nomination—to serve as transportation secretary in his administration.

As one of the fastest-rising young stars in the Democratic Party, the 38-year-old was widely tipped for a role in the Biden administration. He parlayed two terms as mayor of a midsize city in a Midwestern red state into national political aspirations—narrowly winning this year’s Iowa caucus and placing second in the New Hampshire primary, before dropping out of the presidential race ahead of Super Tuesday and endorsing Biden.

As a surrogate for Biden’s campaign, Buttigieg garnered praise for his willingness to appear on Fox News and other conservative media outlets to advocate for Biden and the Democrats. That willingness to engage in debate with the other side—coupled with his success as a openly gay, Democratic politician in a traditionally conservative state—only further burnished Buttigieg’s star, with some seeing him as the future of a moderate Democratic Party capable of beating the Republicans in their own backyard. As transportation secretary, Buttigieg would be the first openly LGBTQ cabinet secretary approved by the U.S. Senate.

But Buttigieg also has his fair share of detractors. Even before the 2020 presidential campaign, his three-year stint at management consulting giant McKinsey & Co. and his overly ambitious, careerist political trajectory were already raising eyebrows among the progressive left. But a contentious primary in which he lured big corporate donors and frequently took aim at progressive favorite Bernie Sanders firmly established Buttigieg as the bête noire of the left’s vocal online commentariat—many of whom reject him as a continuation of the Democratic Party’s corporatized, neoliberal establishment.

Those voices were out in full force Tuesday to meet the news of Buttigieg’s pending nomination with skepticism and, in some cases, outright disdain—questioning his qualifications for the role and jesting about what his tenure as transportation secretary would entail.

Politico transportation reporter Sam Mintz pointed out the unprecedented scale of Buttigieg’s new task, and how he beat out some experienced candidates in getting the DOT nod.

But Mintz and other observers also noted that Buttigieg does indeed have transportation credentials of his own, including initiatives that he pursued as South Bend mayor.

Still, Buttigieg’s nomination will rankle those on the left who were hoping that Biden’s cabinet would strike a more progressive tone. Thus far, it appears the President-elect’s transition has paid little mind to cabinet recommendations outlined by progressive groups.

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