Posted 8 days ago
The Buttigieg presidential buzz has penetrated the White House
At 39, he is the most recognizable and powerful transportation secretary in modern memory. And he wants you to believe his eye isn’t on the future.
PHOENIX — Pete Buttigieg has long been a man in a hurry.
Since 2010, he has run for treasurer of Indiana, mayor of South Bend, chair of the Democratic National Committee, and president of the United States. At 39, he is one of the most omnipresent and newly-powerful members of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet. But he says he’s not thinking about what comes next, even as he’s buzzed about as a potential Biden heir.
“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 told POLITICO on Friday, amidst people in hard hats and bright yellow safety vests in a construction zone near Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.
While Buttigieg says he’s not contemplating the race to be Biden’s successor, inside the West Wing, others are imagining it for him. His name is sometimes discussed by aides as a natural Democratic presidential nominee in 2028 — or 2024 if the president opts not to run.
“Nobody in the West Wing shuts that down,” said one person with direct knowledge of the conversations. “It’s very open.”
The chatter has frustrated some staffers of color who see it as disrespectful to Kamala Harris — the first Black woman vice president — and think senior officials should tamp it down. Some of Buttigieg’s former campaign staffers also question whether challenging Harris is feasible given how critical the Black vote is in any Democratic primary, and how Buttigieg struggled to attract those voters the last time around. But there is some existing infrastructure waiting in the wings.
The political action committee he formed in the aftermath of the presidential race, Win the Era, is mostly keeping quiet, but the website remains up and has been organizing occasional events including one on Nov. 15. Former campaign aides Maxwell Nunes and Michael Halle have been helping keep it afloat, according to filings and disbursement reports. Neither of them responded to messages.
As for the reports of an emerging rivalry with the vice president, Buttigieg said: “We work extremely well with the vice president's team, and I'm proud to be part of the Biden-Harris team and this administration.”
Buttigieg is getting a taste of what life would be like selling a presidential agenda.
He was in Phoenix on Friday for a trio of events touting construction projects, including places that could benefit from the administration’s newly minted infrastructure funding law, and addressing concerns about the supply chain. Arizona Democratic Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema and Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego all joined him for at least two of the meetings, and there was a lot of mutual praise.
Sinema, who has occasionally given the White House and progressives fits, seemed delighted to appear with Buttigieg at a round table at Mesa Community College where he sat between the two senators. “Thanks for your leadership,” in getting the infrastructure bill signed, Buttigieg said.
It was his first day on the road as a prominent face of the president’s infrastructure package, a $550 billion legislative initiative he will help implement and sell to the public, with all the political implications that holds for the president.
“What excites me most is that we're going to have a lot of ground... (Read more)