Three years ago, the only people who’d ever heard of Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Democrats inch closer to legislative deal Republican spin on Biden is off the mark Unanswered questions remain for Buttigieg, Biden on supply chain catastrophe MORE were likely to be residents of South Bend, Ind., the town of 103,000 people where he served as mayor.
South Bend is home to Notre Dame University. It has a bus station with a fleet of 60 buses, a small train station and a small regional airport. So, who better for Team Biden to nominate as secretary of the Department of Transportation, which employs more than 58,000 employees – more than half the population of South Bend – and has a budget of $87 billion?
After a quiet first nine months in office, the former mayor has his first crisis on his hands: a massive supply-chain breakdown exploding across the country that will impact every American, particularly the lower and middle classes. Restaurants, stores and small businesses that provide products and services to people will all be negatively affected as the cost to the consumer goes up.
Per a recent CBS News report: “A growing number of shipments are stuck at sea because of supply chain issues, leading to growing concern that holiday shipments may not arrive in time. Container ships are crowding ports from New York to Los Angeles, where 250,000 containers are floating off the coast waiting to be unloaded," the report reads.
The Washington Post ominously breaks down the situation as well. "Ships wait off the California coast, unable to unload their cargo. Truckers are overworked and overwhelmed, often confronting logjams. Rail yards have also been clogged, with trains at one point backed up 25 miles outside a key Chicago facility," the publication reported on Sunday.
Ships wait off the California coast, unable to unload their cargo.— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) October 10, 2021
Truckers are overworked and overwhelmed, often confronting logjams.
Rail yards have also been clogged, with trains at one point backed up 25 miles outside a key Chicago facility. https://t.co/9gTuUmZT1g pic.twitter.com/Xit0oPUPFs
One major reason this is happening is a shortage of workers to get cargo off of these ships, and another shortage of truck drivers to transport them where they need to go. A worker shortage has been a common theme throughout the first 10 months of the Biden era, where no one in the administration – including Labor Secretary Marty WalshMarty WalshThe No Surprises Act: a bill long overdue The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Democrats inch closer to legislative deal Six big off-year elections you might be missing MORE – has any good answers as to why it is happening.
So, to what level of accountability are the media holding the Transportation secretary?
A quick Google check of "Pete Buttigieg,” when using the "News" search option, reveals the following headlines in this exact order as of Monday afternoon.
"Pete Buttigieg calls parenting twins 'the most demanding thing I think I've ever done’ ” - USA Today, under the "Celebrities" section
"Pete Buttigieg Dishes on His Future As a Presidential Candidate" - Business Insider
As you can see, almost all outlets are focusing on Buttigieg's foray into fatherhood and not on the one major issue he's in charge of fixing, or at least getting under some semblance of control, as cargo ships continue to pile up off the coast of America’s port cities.
Buttigieg was finally asked about this issue in an interview with Bloomberg News last week, during which he warned that the "challenges" will continue, possibly for years, before pitching President BidenJoe BidenOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by American Clean Power — Methane fee faces negotiations White House rejects latest Trump claim of executive privilege The No Surprises Act: a bill long overdue MORE's stalled $3.5 infrastructure plan, which surely will make everything all better.
"These challenges are definitely going to continue in the months and years ahead," Buttigieg said. "This is one more reason why we do need to deliver this infrastructure package, so that we can have a more resilient, flexible physical infrastructure to support our supply chain in this country."
But let's say the Biden infrastructure plan – which contains a majority of items that the administration calls "human infrastructure,” to the tune of trillions of dollars of additional spending while core inflation is already at a 30-year high – doesn't pass. What is Buttigieg doing *right now* to address the crisis?
"The White House set up a task force," he explained to MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Oct. 7. "Look, this is obviously an incredibly complicated situation that we're talking about. We're talking about global supply chains. And it's mostly private-sector systems. But we have a big role to play, and that's why we've been convening all of the different players ... held roundtables, bringing together everyone connected to the ports."
The Washington-speak is impossible to ignore: We've "set up a task force,” we've "held roundtables." It's reminiscent of Vice President Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisObama looks to give new momentum to McAuliffe Kamala Harris engages with heckler during New York speech Biden's safe-space CNN town hall attracts small audience, as poll numbers plummet MORE attempting to tackle the border catastrophe using a similar approach that sounded nice but did little to nothing to address the problem. As a senator, Harris once cited critics who compared the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to the KKK, while arguing that entering the country illegally should be legalized. So of course she was just the person to choose to fix a catastrophe on the border that will see more than 2.3 million migrants entering the country illegally, a number equal to the population of America's fourth-largest city.
With Buttigieg's experience and current "action" as a backdrop on the broken supply chain, it's interesting to watch a 2020 campaign ad from the Biden team mocking Buttigieg’s experience — before it hired him for a top job in the administration:
"Under the threat of a nuclear Iran, Joe Biden helped negotiate the Iran deal," the 2020 campaign ad said before going full-snark: "And under the threat of disappearing pets, Pete Buttigieg negotiated lighter licensing regulations on pet-chip scanners."
"Both Vice President Biden and former ‘Mayor Pete’ have helped shape our economy. Joe Biden helped save the auto industry, which revitalized the economy of the Midwest and led to the passage and implementation of the recovery act, saving our economy from a depression," it continued. "Pete Buttigieg revitalized the sidewalks of downtown South Bend by laying out decorative brick."
Biden would go on to name Buttigieg not to an ambassadorship or to some fluffy job in the administration as a thank-you for dropping out of the 2020 race and immediately endorsing him, but to be Transportation secretary.
Qualifications? Who needs them?
Buttigieg is beloved by many in the American press for a variety of reasons, including because he checks off many boxes in the sizzle department. But chief among them is not his experience with supply chains, small business, Big Labor or transportation.
Mayor Pete may be a presidential candidate again one day. That is, if he somehow navigates a crisis in which he's clearly in over his head.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.