When Pete Buttigieg arrived in Washington, DC, earlier this year, the former South Bend, Ind., mayor had already become a household name through his scrappy 2020 presidential campaign that saw him soar in Iowa and New Hampshire before his eventual exit from the Democratic primaries at the hands of now-President Joe Biden.
As a 39-year-old veteran who has already sought the highest office in the land, the US Transportation secretary is seen as a potential successor to Biden in 2028 — or in 2024 if the president reverses course from a planned reelection bid.
Buttigieg, who was confirmed to his Cabinet post in February, recently told Politico that he likes his job and has not thought much about electioneering since getting settled in the nation’s capital.
“I’d say the other thing that I’m really enjoying about this job, although it’s very demanding and obviously requiring a lot, is that this is the least I have had to think about campaigns and elections in about a decade and that’s a very good thing,” he said in Phoenix late last week.
However, while Buttigieg has been focused on his role — which has only become more prominent with the passage of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill — some in the Biden White House have already raised his name as a future Democratic presidential nominee.
“Nobody in the West Wing shuts that down,” an individual with knowledge of the situation told Politico. “It’s very open.”
The Buttigieg talk has reportedly “frustrated” several staffers of color who see the conversation as a slight toward Vice President Kamala Harris — the first female, first Black, and first Indian American to hold the office — and believe that senior White House officials should work to minimize such chatter.
According to Politico, some of Buttigieg’s former 2020 staffers are pondering whether a potential challenge to Harris would be wise given the importance of the Black vote in the Democratic presidential primary process, while also noting his struggles in courting the pivotal group last year.
Buttigieg’s political action committee, Win the Era, has been quiet since he joined government earlier this year, but it is still active, with former campaign aides Maxwell Nunes and Michael Halle helping with its upkeep.
However, while on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Buttigieg brushed off any talk of a rivalry with Harris. When the secretary was asked if coverage of Harris’s political standing had any effect on their relationship, he rejected the idea.
“No, because she and I are part of a team that is disciplined and doesn’t focus on what’s obsessing the commentators. We’re too busy with a job to do. She, as the leader in this administration, with her leadership role, and I, and the president, and everybody else in the cabinet and across the administration, are laser-focused on getting the job done,” he said.
“We have been assigned by the president to take on — literally — projects and legislation of generational significance. There’s no room to get caught up in the parlor games, and I’m proud to be part of the Biden-Harris team,” he added.
While in Arizona, Buttigieg touted the newly-signed infrastructure bill, while also speaking on supply-chain issues that have been driven by the coronavirus pandemic and high consumer demand.
“What excites me most is that we’re going to have a lot of groundbreakings and eventually a lot of ribbon cuttings,” he said of future projects that are set to be approved in the coming year.