WASHINGTON (AP) – Pete Buttigieg He had been at his job as transportation secretary for a few weeks, buried in meetings and preparing for the launch of President Joe Biden’s $ 2.3 billion public works plan, when night came and the time came to try something new in Washington.
Instead of climbing into the backseat of a black SUV like most cabinet secretaries, she made her way to a bike rack to share. Helmet on, and with a couple of Secret Service agents flanking him, he pedaled the mile-long journey to his home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
It was not a one-time trick. On Thursday, Buttigieg arrived at the White House for a cabinet meeting in his two-wheeler. And that wasn’t his only “normal boy” moment. Devotees of dog parks in the District of Columbia have seen him there too, chatting with anyone from children to members of Congress like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y.
Buttigieg first set his eyes on the work of the man who is now his boss, Biden. Buttigieg’s presidential campaign he was surprisingly successful – essentially tied for first place with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses and finished very close to him in the New Hampshire primary – and 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, Indiana – faces the first test of that potential in his first job in Washington: leading a cabinet department with an annual budget of $ 75,000. million and a mandate to help drive an infrastructure program that Biden has likened to building the interstate highway system in the 1950s.
It will have to navigate the complicated politics of an entrenched bureaucracy in the Department of Transportation and the tense politics of a bitterly divided Washington.
He may have found a way simply by riding a bike, which has won fans even skeptics in Congress.
“You have to keep your head up,” Buttigieg told The Associated Press, explaining the road and the potential dangers posed by unaccustomed drivers, but said it can be a much quicker ride 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, a flood of 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 corporate tax increases that Biden says the plan will pay for and vows to oppose it “at every step. of the way “. On the other hand, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, says the package should be significantly larger.
Daunting as it may sound, the challenge of helping build consensus fits the ambition of the man who had the audacity to run for president from the position of mayor of a midsize city in Indiana. When Biden selected the smooth-talking naval reserve veteran for the transport post, he praised him for offering “a new voice with new ideas determined to leave old politics behind.”
In an interview, Buttigieg said he believes a bipartisan consensus can be achieved.
Joining Buttigieg in selling the plan are Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.
“I’ve had enough conversations, especially off-camera one-on-one conversations with members from both sides of the aisle, to know that there really is a sincere interest in doing this,” Buttigieg told the AP. “Now politics can get in the way of that, of course. But I think that unlike many other topics where there is deep, passionate disagreement about what to do, there is a really healthy overlap here in terms of our ideas about what needs to happen, even if there is a lot of difference in how to get there “.
Translation? Republicans also like quiet roads and fast internet for their constituents. But so far, there is no indication that Republicans share his position.
The proposal puts a lot on the line for Buttigieg in the department, where he is committed to promoting public transportation and other green alternatives to gas-guzzling cars and applying an “equity lens” to infrastructure projects.
“Black and brown neighborhoods have been disproportionately divided by highway projects or isolated by lack of adequate transit and transportation resources,” Buttigieg tweeted in December. Under Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, he said, “we will make correcting these mistakes imperative.”
Just two months into his tenure, Buttigieg has met with two dozen members of the House and 13 senators and has picked up that pace in recent days, speaking to lawmakers from both parties every day.
Republicans describe the former McKinsey consultant as personable and open-minded, even if they sometimes wonder about his actual level of influence in legislation.
Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, the top Republican on a key panel that oversees the highways, said he spoke with Buttigieg twice, once in a meeting with Biden and a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the White House. He called the conversations “really good.”
“I’m very excited to be working with him,” said Davis, a cyclist at home in his rural district, who believes the former mayor can bring valuable street-level perspective to fill potholes and ease congested streets.
“If you want to take a ride to talk about bike lanes and public transportation, I would appreciate it,” he said.
Although he is the youngest member of the cabinet at 39, Buttigieg possesses star power equaled by few in the group. He has demonstrated his ability to get media attention and use those moments, including during a series of memorable Fox News hits around the election, to influence the public, including those who are not always eligible to vote for Democrats.
He spoke at the popular SXSW conference in Texas, joined Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat of Virginia, in promoting the expansion of the commuter train, and frequently tweets to a broader audience that comes close to rivaling Donald Trump as president. Buttigieg promotes the transit policy both on her official and personal account, where she also expresses devotion to her husband, Chasten.
Buttigieg, who has two dogs, has even been spotted in a neighborhood park with Ocasio-Cortez. A chance meeting, he said.
The new transportation secretary had a recent stumble: He had to quickly backtrack on a plan to charge drivers by the mile they drove. It’s a proposal that has some support among Republicans, but it could violate Biden’s campaign promise not to raise taxes on people who earn less than $ 400,000.
Buttigieg has impressed West Wing’s aides with his work ethic and willingness to learn, and was quickly granted approval to pursue strong engagement with the media.
The president’s aides also have warm feelings for the former mayor for his decision last spring to swiftly back Biden after abandoning his own campaign, which helped hasten the end of the Democratic primary race. And Biden has compared Buttigieg to his late son Beau, a powerful evocation that helped cement his importance to the president.
Now tied to Biden’s schedule and performance, Buttigieg enters a phase that is likely to enhance his portfolio of public services and his life experience.
This phase accomplishes what some allies said Buttigieg needed, a next chapter, beyond the story of the homeless boy wonder of the small Midwestern town. Friends and advisers had long suggested that he get out of South Bend and see more of the world than his seven-month deployment to Afghanistan in 2014 allowed.
Buttigieg was also busy making arrangements to run for president when he married in June 2018 and when his father died six months later. During the campaign, he said that he and Chasten were hoping to become parents.
When asked about his desire to be a father, Buttigieg told the AP that “we’re still working on it,” before adding with a smile, “Stay tuned.”
As fast as he got up, Buttigieg quickly called off his campaign in March 2020, before Biden’s rise in the primaries was clear. He knew when to get out. He will probably also know when to re-enter, if he does.
“He has incredible political talent and ability,” said Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton, Ohio, a longtime friend and supporter of the 2020 campaign. “But part of that talent and ability is having a great political moment.” .
On that front, she sees her infrastructure work not as “part of this big plan in your next move,” but rather as a demonstration of her ability to focus on the task at hand.
Buttigieg and her husband have been seen walking through their new neighborhood, Capitol Hill, where they live in a one-bedroom apartment, wandering the craft stalls at Eastern Market amid smiles from residents. Last weekend, they roamed the rows of brick houses and the magnolia cherry blossoms, waving to neighbors with waves and allowing young children to pet their dogs. His one-eyed puggle named “Buddy,” adopted in late 2018, has become something of an Instagram star.
Buddy lingered as a blonde haired girl ran over and sat up to snuggle him while the other lab mix, Truman, stood nearby.
“He loves the attention,” Chasten Buttigieg explained to the girl, a trait that Buddy picked up on during the campaign.
Pete Buttigieg smiled as the girl gave the dog a goodbye scratch on the head, and the couple slowly made their way back down a path to the Capitol.
Beaumont reported from Des Moines, Iowa. Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Calvin Woodward contributed to this report.