Pete Buttigieg and Alejandro Mayorkas Make History as They Are Sworn Into Biden's Cabinet

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Virginia Chamlee
·5 min read
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Lorenzo Bevilaqua/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images; Mark Makela/Getty Images Pete Buttigieg (left) and Alejandro Mayorkas

The Biden administration added two more firsts to its Cabinet this week, swearing in Pete Buttigieg as the first openly gay person to be confirmed to a Cabinet post in American history and Alejandro Mayorkas as the first Latino and first immigrant to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Buttigieg — who rose to prominence during his own history-making 2020 bid for president, becoming the first gay person to win a nominating contest — was sworn in on Wednesday, following his confirmation by the Senate in an 86-13 vote on Tuesday.

According to a pool report, Buttigieg was sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris using a Bible belonging to his mother, which was held by his husband, Chasten, who was described as looking on with "palpable emotion in his eyes."

At 38 years old, Buttigieg will be one of the youngest Cabinet secretaries the U.S. has seen in decades. At the Transportation Department, he will preside over projects to rebuild climate-resilient infrastructure and restore "crumbling roads, bridges and ports," according to an earlier statement from the administration.

In a tweet shortly after his confirmation, Buttigieg — a former corporate analyst and Navy Reserveman who served in Afghanistan — said he was "honored" to serve in the role and "help build the kind of infrastructure that creates jobs, empowers all, and keeps travelers & workers safe. It's time to get to work."

RELATED: The Historic Firsts in President Joe Biden's Administration

Mayorkas, 61, was sworn in on Tuesday, taking the oath of office on a Bible held by his wife in front of the vice president.

On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Mayorkas in a 56-43 vote. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell opposed his confirmation, telling his Republican colleagues that Mayorkas, a former federal prosecutor and deputy secretary for DHS, was "ethically compromised" due to an inspector general report which suggested he had assisted some politically-connected foreign investors obtain green cards.

(As The Washington Post noted, the report did not suggest any of Mayorkas' actions were illegal and, according to the Associated Press, he "disputed the findings" and was not sanctioned.)

"Frankly, his record should foreclose confirmation, even to a lower post," McConnell said Tuesday in a speech on the Senate floor, adding that he would be "voting against his confirmation" and urged his colleagues to do the same.

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley likewise had objected to Mayorkas' nomination earlier in the process, prolonging his confirmation because of what Mayorkas had indicated about border security.

"My friends on the other side don't have to agree with Mr. Mayorkas on the finer points of every policy, but surely we can all agree that he knows the department, he understands the threats to our nation's security and has what it takes to lead DHS," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in defense of Mayorkas, who also drew praise from border patrol officials, the AP reported.

The Department of Homeland Security, created in the wake of 9/11, is the third largest Cabinet department and one of the most highly scrutinized because of its responsibility for immigration enforcement, counterterrorism and the border.

Under President Donald Trump, the department also carried out some of his signature — and most controversial — policies, such as separation of migrant families and the construction of a southern border wall. Joe Biden campaigned in large part on reversing those decisions.

Mayorkas will oversee those issues as well as cybersecurity, disaster relief and more.

In a video published on Twitter after his nomination was formally announced, Mayorkas, who is Cuban, spoke about his journey to America "to escape Communism."

His experience as an immigrant, he said "has very much informed the pride I have in our country, and I felt very committed to giving back. And I work for the federal government with that goal in mind."

RELATED: Who Joe Biden Has Announced for His Cabinet So Far

Biden, 78, makes history as the oldest U.S. president and just weeks into the new administration, several of his Cabinet or Cabinet-level choices have made history, as well.

His vice president, Harris, is the first woman and first Black and Asian person to hold her office. Last month, Janet Yellen was confirmed as the first female treasury secretary, days after the Senate confirmations of Avril Haines, the first woman to serve as director of national intelligence, and retired four-star Gen. Lloyd Austin as the first Black secretary of Defense.

Other firsts in Biden's Cabinet that remain to be confirmed include Xavier Becerra, who would become the first Latino to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and Deb Haaland, the nominee for interior secretary, who would be the first Native American to lead the department.