“This confirmation breaks through a barrier that has existed for too long; where L.G.B.T.Q. identity served as an impediment to nomination or confirmation at the highest level of government,” Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, a group dedicated to advancing the interests of the L.G.B.T.Q. community, said in a statement. “Let this important moment for our movement serve as a reminder to every L.G.B.T.Q. young person: You too can serve your country in any capacity you earn the qualifications to hold.”
Although Mr. Buttigieg received a warm reception on Capitol Hill and among transportation experts, criticism has followed him into office, particularly on race. During his presidential run, Mr. Buttigieg was denounced for his firing of a Black police chief early in his tenure as mayor and his inability to diversify South Bend’s overwhelmingly white police force.
Critics have also pointed to Mr. Buttigieg’s relatively thin record on transportation overhaul, disparities in South Bend’s distribution of contracting dollars to minority- and female-owned businesses, and the limited number of minority appointments Mr. Buttigieg made to his top political staff in South Bend.
At his hearing, he entered into politically fraught territory by not immediately ruling out an increase in the nation’s gas tax to refill the dwindling pot of money for highway improvements, saying that “all options need to be on the table.” After the hearing, a spokesman said Mr. Buttigieg opposed increasing the tax.
To help Mr. Buttigieg, Mr. Biden has nominated Polly Trottenberg, who oversaw New York City’s Transportation Department for seven years, as his deputy. The administration has also appointed 40 senior officials to the department, including to critical posts overseeing airways, highways and railroads.
During Mr. Buttigieg’s time as mayor, his signature transportation achievement was a $25 million project, called Smart Streets, that converted South Bend’s one-way roads into two-way streets with bike lanes and sidewalks to encourage foot traffic and downtown commercial activity.
Now, transportation experts say, the test will be to see how Mr. Buttigieg enacts his promises to make the department more climate friendly and racially just with his limited authority over how money can be spent.