Pete Buttigieg gets Transportation spot: Joe Biden may tap Rahm Emanuel for an ambassadorship

A “high level” international role for Emanuel could diminish the ardor of his considerable number of critics to spend time and money mounting a campaign against him.

SHARE Pete Buttigieg gets Transportation spot: Joe Biden may tap Rahm Emanuel for an ambassadorship
Pete Buttigieg Announces Suspension Of Presidential Campaign

President-elect Joe Biden announced on Tuesday he will nominate former presidential rival and ex-South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg to be Transportation Secretary. He would be the first openly gay person confirmed for a Cabinet spot. He’s pictured with husband Chasten.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden is not picking Rahm Emanuel to be Transportation Secretary — who wanted it —instead announcing Tuesday he is selecting Pete Buttigieg, who was lobbying for other posts.

However, the resilient ex-Chicago mayor, the first chief of staff for former President Barack Obama, remains in play for multiple roles, I am told, including “high level ambassadorship jobs.”

Biden will appear with Buttigieg, the former South Bend mayor and a one-time presidential primary rival at a Wednesday announcement event.

On Tuesday night, the Biden transition team said in a statement, “Buttigieg is a barrier-breaking and transformational public servant from the industrial Midwest who embodies a new generation of American leadership.”

Buttigieg is 38. Emanuel is 61.

If confirmed, Buttigieg will “bring the same vision and policy acumen that reinvigorated South Bend when he was Mayor to the task of implementing President-elect Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, including rebuilding modern, sustainable infrastructure nationwide and creating millions of good-paying union jobs. He would also make history as the first openly gay person confirmed to lead a Cabinet department in our nation’s history.”

In my Monday column I concluded the odds of Emanuel landing a top spot in the Biden administration are getting tougher. That’s still true.

Long shots can win if they are still in the running, and Emanuel remains in the race. He is close to Biden and his incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain.

Emanuel became too hot for Biden to handle for a Cabinet post at this time in the wake of protests from leaders of public service unions, civil rights groups and progressive organizations.

Emanuel’s record in the Laquan McDonald killing contributed to sidelining him for a Cabinet slot. McDonald is the Black 17-year-old youth who died in 2014 after being shot 16 timesby a Chicago police officer, with Emanuel sitting on the release of a video of the incident until after he was reelected in 2015.

Because Emanuel is so controversial, it makes no sense for Biden to make his appointment to anything a priority. He doesn’t need the aggravation.

Ambassadors are most often thought of being attached to a specific country.

However, there are multiple forms of ambassadorships in the U.S. government. There are ambassadors to NATO; the United Nations; Global Women’s Issues; the European Union (a spot now held by Chicagoan Ron Gidwitz, who is also ambassador to Belgium) and other global organizations.

There are also ambassadors-at-large, whose portfolios are specialized.

Biden could carve out an international position for Emanuel — say taking on Middle East peace issues. Emanuel, whose late father, Benjamin, was born in Jerusalem, has worked on these matters since his time in the Clinton White House.

An international role for Emanuel could diminish the ardor of his considerable number of critics to spend time and money mounting a campaign against him.

Biden is juggling personnel demands from multiple constituencies as he forms his administration, where diversity in all forms is a priority. Biden has been making history making picks, starting with Kamala Harris, who will be the first female and first person of color to be vice president.

Special interest groups have been keeping the pressure on Biden to make good quickly on his diversity promises.

Buttigieg, a multilingual, former Navy officer, was aiming at what seemed a better fit: UN Ambassador or United States Trade Representative. He also was mentioned as Ambassador to China and for Veterans Affairs secretary, a position he did not want.

That Emanuel and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — also talked about for the Transportation slot — have stronger resumes for that assignment — they have run multimodal transit systems in giant cities, airports and infrastructure projects — is now besides the point.

For all of Buttigieg’s talents, he’ll have a learning curve. South Bend has a population of about 100,000 — the size of two Chicago wards.

Buttigieg, by the way, has Chicago roots.

During his presidential campaign, he located a branch national headquarters in the South Loop. He spent a summer interning at NBC5 for now retired journalist Renee Ferguson while a Harvard undergraduate. After Harvard and the University of Oxford, Buttigieg moved back to Chicago in 2007, where he was a consultant for McKinsey & Company, renting a condo at 8 W. Monroe.

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