Buttigieg faces opportunities and challenges on infrastructure
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is set to be a key figure behind implementing the new infrastructure law, a role that gives the former mayor and presidential candidate an opportunity to further raise his national profile.
Buttigieg in December visited four key swing states — New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia — to promote the law. He’s also set to play a big role in helping Democrats in competitive districts in the 2022 midterm elections.
After a relatively strong first year in office, allies and supporters see a tremendous opportunity for the former South Bend, Ind., mayor in the next year.
“Right now, Buttigieg is the most prominent outwardly facing member of the administration and he’s handled that position so far with aplomb and has done a great service to the Biden administration,” said former Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.), a Biden ally.
Buttigieg was joined by Vice President Harris on the trip to Charlotte, N.C., where the two toured the public transit facility at the Charlotte Area Transit System’s bus garage and met with transit workers.
Buttigieg and Harris are both seen as potential successors to Biden, who plans to run for reelection in 2024 if his health permits it. Biden will be 81 in the next election year, which has led to persistent questions about whether he will stick to his plans of running for reelection.
Implementing the infrastructure law will give Buttigieg new opportunities to stick out.
“I think Secretary Buttigieg will appear in a lot of swing states, touting the benefits of the infrastructure bill but also probably poke at those Republicans in the swing states that voted against it,” Carney said.
The law, which had GOP support in both chambers but particularly in the Senate, polls favorably with voters, with 50 percent supporting the legislation in November, down from 58 percent in August before it passed.
In the end, some say Buttigieg will be judged by how funds are distributed and whether projects are shovel-ready and create good jobs.
Joseph Geevarghese, executive director at Our Revolution, a grassroots-funded progressive organization, said that there are many open questions about if projects will start immediately and not in five or 10 years.
“I think there’s an opportunity for him to elevate his profile and to use this as a platform to do so. That being said, the devil is always going to be in the details about the implementation of these policies, and I think how this is implemented remains to be seen,” he said.
“For me, the challenge will be, it is not necessarily clear the bipartisan infrastructure bill by itself is going to deliver good union jobs,” Geevarghese added.
Steve Elmendorf, a lobbyist and early fundraiser for Buttigieg’s 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, said the best thing Buttigieg can do for his own political future is to help the Biden administration.
After a strong start, Biden’s first year in office sputtered badly, leaving the president with anemic poll numbers and his party deeply worried about its midterm prospects.
Buttigieg has his hands on at least one of the issues that has dragged at Biden: a supply chain crisis aggravated by the pandemic that frustrated businesses and consumers alike.
Toward the end of the year, Buttigieg and the White House were able to point to some progress, with the secretary at the end of November highlighting a record movement of goods through the supply chain.
“I think the best thing that Pete Buttigieg can do for the future is to ensure the success of the Biden-Harris administration. His success leads to more success,” Elmendorf said.
Elmendorf said Buttigieg should keep his focus on his job and not be distracted by the prospects of 2024 or 2028.
“He’s got a lot of time, there’s great opportunity and the last thing that he should want is people to question his motives and say he’s doing something for politics. He should do it because it’s the right thing now,” he said.
“The guy’s an incredible political talent, he’s young, he’s got many things he can run for in the future, but all of it derives from being good at what he’s doing now and making sure the Biden-Harris administration is successful,” Elmendorf added.
Either way, Buttigieg appears to have plenty of opportunities in the new year to keep himself in the spotlight, given his work on the infrastructure bill.
“The infrastructure bill implementation will bring him all over the country. His name recognition is high now, it will be even higher by the time the summer is over. It’s also not divisive politically,” Carney said.
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