Buttigieg charms Washington with his accessibility

Earlier this month on his way home from work, Pete Buttigieg made a pit stop at a Pizza Hut parking lot to pick up a used road bike that the new secretary of Transportation plans to use to get around Washington, D.C. 

“Good bike!” Buttigieg wrote on Twitter a few days after he made the purchase, with a caravan of security agents in tow. 

Those around Buttigieg say the story of his bike — which he sometimes rides to work —is a personal example of how he’s trying to make himself “accessible” at the department.

In his first two months on the job, Buttigieg, who endorsed President Biden after his surprisingly strong primary campaign fizzled in South Carolina following a strong showing in the Iowa caucuses, has made headlines for pedaling to work.

He’s also appeared on late night television, spoken at the popular SXSW conference and maintained a social media presence befitting his political-celebrity status.

He has a new @SecretaryPete account on Instagram and pokes fun at himself on Twitter.

“Bike Twitter says my seat is too low,” Buttigieg wrote earlier this month after using the bike share in Washington. “Can confirm.” 

Buttigieg won attention during the Democratic primary as a policy wonk, and administration officials credit him as one of the best voices for pushing what is expected to be a $3 trillion infrastructure plan.

To date, he’s met with nearly two dozen members in the House and 13 senators, administration officials said. He has also had multiple sessions with the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities and held a discussion at the National Governors Association. 

“President Biden and the White House asked Secretary Buttigieg to play a leading role in developing the President’s recovery agenda and building support for the Rescue Plan, and the Secretary has done an admirable job in that work and in communicating it to the American people,” a White House official said. 

The former mayor of South Bend, Ind., has served as a strong advocate for Biden since before the election, when he was a powerful messenger for the campaign through media hits.

The 39-year-old Navy veteran, and first openly gay Cabinet official, was always expected to get a nod from Biden in the administration. When it was announced that he would be nominated for Transportation Secretary, Buttigieg, whose biography is titled “Shortest Way Home,” joked about his love for Amtrak and the Chicago airport.

As the only millennial serving in Biden’s Cabinet, Buttigieg has continued to be the young, reliable and sharp advocate for the administration.

Days after Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law, Buttigieg was out in the field touting it.

Earlier this month, he met with UPS workers delivering vaccines to D.C. and Maryland at a Landover, Md., distribution center.

At that event, he made news when he told reporters the administration will be taking action on infrastructure well before a Sept. 30 deadline to reauthorize surface transportation funding.

“I’ll let the president lead on the legislative priorities and sequencing, but as you’ve seen from the public impatience and the congressional interest, these conversations are very much live,” he said at the event.

He has his work cut out for him when it comes to selling the infrastructure plan to skeptics. Republicans already have criticized its price tag and its focus on climate change.

But the GOP has been largely positive about Buttigieg.

“I don’t mean to sound adversarial,” said Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, in an interview with The Hill about his concerns with the infrastructure plan.

“I really appreciate a lot of the things that the secretary has said already, I’ve been — based on what I was expecting — I think that he’s come across as being a lot more thoughtful than I anticipated with his experience as mayor. I do think he’s a very bright and thoughtful guy,” he said.

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said at a hearing this week with Buttigieg testifying that he was “really proud” of the fact that Buttigieg got to be secretary. He joked he would give Buttigieg a grade after four years, noting he has worked with 10 Transportation secretaries in his career.

Buttigieg’s longtime allies say they are hopeful his accessible approach will help the Biden administration.

“I think his approach is breath of fresh air,” said Eric Lesser, a state senator in Massachusetts and former aide in the Obama White House, who has known Buttigieg since the two attended Harvard together. 

“Pete has always been at heart a listener and that’s especially important in the role he’s in now,” Lesser said. “Our communities are suffering from transportation disinvestment and so many worthy projects laying on the planning room floor.” 

Lesser said Buttigieg’s experience as mayor gives him a palpable understanding of what states are attempting to tackle with infrastructure.

“He comes from a community that has suffered from those cracks” in the system. 

The interest in Washington over Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, is palpable. Washingtonian magazine deemed them “DC’s favorite new power couple” following a New York Times piece highlighting a new type of second spouse.

The piece revealed that the two live on Capitol Hill in an apartment, where Buttigieg takes his Zoom calls. They have two dogs, Buddy and Truman, who gained national fame during his presidential run.

On top of his public media presence, Buttigieg has held off the record calls with reporters. He and Chasten Buttigieg have also been spotted out and about.

Earlier this month, Chasten Buttigieg and second gentleman Doug Emhoff went out for coffee together and a passerby took a selfie with them.

“I guess you’ll be Secretary Pete,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) said to him at the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing this week.

“I’ll always answer to that,” Buttigieg replied.



Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Don Young Doug Emhoff Garret Graves Infrastructure Joe Biden Pete Buttigieg Steve Cohen Transportation

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