Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is charged with doling out hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure cash, making him a very popular man among state and local leaders jockeying for a windfall, and with convenient timing while Democratic strategists float his name as a possible favorite to succeed President Biden.
Biden signed a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill into law on Nov. 15, allocating $660 billion to the Department of Transportation (DOT) over the next five years. Governors and mayors across the country are now scrambling for a slice of the pie, which includes roughly $211 billion to be awarded as competitive federal grants.
Buttigieg, a former mayor himself, has essentially become "the most powerful transportation secretary ever," as Business Insider put it, controlling the wallet of an unprecedented amount of money at the department.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, for instance, has spent a considerable amount of time in recent weeks in Washington, D.C., pitching his city’s projects to top transportation officials.
"I think you have a bit of a scramble right now among mayors and leaders around metro areas around the country to make sure that not just our priorities but our faces are in front of folks," Lucas told McClatchy in an article published Monday. "It is going to be a question of what city is putting its best foot forward to show that they’re doing something different, and they’re doing something special that’s worth attention and ultimately worth money."
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he plans to meet with Buttigieg during a trip to Washington in January.
"All of this money — and what will be our share of it — can be transformational," Steinberg told McClatchy.
Rep. Bobby L. Rush, D-Ill., wasted no time after the infrastructure bill was signed, lobbying Buttigieg at the bill signing ceremony about a proposed rail extension in Chicago.
"I wanted to make sure that he walked away from there with my priorities in his pocket," Rush told The Washington Post.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler, a longtime friend of Buttigieg’s, told KXAN that he started talking in the secretary’s ear as far back as January about his city’s Project Connect high-capacity transit plan.
Buttigieg’s increasing popularity comes as his name is being floated in Democratic circles as a potential presidential candidate if Biden chooses not to run for reelection in 2024. How and where Buttigieg chooses to hand out the funds with be heavily scrutinized by Republicans trying to derail his political future.
A DOT spokesperson told Fox News Digital that Buttigieg is regularly engaged with stakeholders who may benefit from the new law, and that he has placed an emphasis on projects that focus on economic strength, safety, climate, equity, and preparing for the future. The spokesperson said communities of all sizes stand to benefit from the various grant programs, including rural and urban areas, and that Buttigieg is committed to following the statutory requirements and congressional intent when implementing those programs.
During an appearance this month on MSNBC, Buttigieg said his agency feels a "responsibility to be creative, to be smart, to be entrepreneurial, but also to be careful, cautious, and accountable of these dollars."
The DOT spokesperson told Fox News Digital that Buttigieg plans to implement the grant programs in a manner that is timely, transparent, and responsive to the transportation and infrastructure needs of American communities.
Since the infrastructure bill was signed into law, Buttigieg has made several appearances in Baltimore and Phoenix to tout its passing. He plans to travel to Charlotte on Thursday with Vice President Kamala Harris and Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., to discuss how the law will benefit North Carolina.
The pairing of Harris and Buttigieg raised eyebrows on social media due to reports the two could face each other in the 2024 Democratic presidential primary. Biden says he intends to seek a second term, but he’s already the oldest-ever president at age 79, fueling doubts that he will be up for the challenge.