The incredibly important difference between Pete Buttigieg’s history-making cabinet role and bitter Richard Grenell

Patrick Kelleher
·3-min read

There is an incredibly important difference between Pete Buttigieg‘s history-making appointment to Joe Biden’s cabinet and Richard Grenell‘s position in Donald Trump‘s administration.

Buttigieg made history on Tuesday (2 January) when the Senate voted by 86 to 13 to confirm his appointment as transportation secretary, making him the first openly LGBT+ person confirmed to serve in a cabinet position.

Grenell, who served as acting director of national intelligence under Trump, quickly offered his vaguely passive aggressive congratulations to Buttigieg on his appointment.

“Congratulations to Pete Buttigieg on becoming the second openly gay member of a president’s cabinet,” Richard Grenell wrote. “Welcome to the club!” He included two photos of himself with Trump.

But there is a notable difference between Grenell’s appointment and Buttigieg’s – and that difference lies with the Senate.

Richard Grenell was indeed the first openly gay man to serve in a cabinet position in the United States when Trump appointed him in February 2020 – but he only ever served as acting director of national intelligence.

The result is that Grenell was never officially confirmed in his position by the Senate. Just three months later, the Senate voted to confirm John Ratcliffe as the new director of national intelligence, bringing Grenell’s three-month stint in a cabinet position to an end.

Pete Buttigieg is the first openly LGBT+ person to hold an official, Senate-confirmed role in a president’s cabinet.

Richard Grenell has hit out at ‘fake news’ over Buttigieg’s confirmation.

Needless to say, Grenell has used Buttigieg’s history-making confirmation as transportation secretary to try and claim some much-needed attention. When ABC News shared a story saying that Buttigieg had made history as “the first openly gay cabinet member in US history to be confirmed by the Senate”, Grenell shared it, bizarrely writing: “Fake news.” Despite the fact that it is literally not fake news.

In fact, Grenell was confirmed by the Senate – as ambassador to Germany, not as director of national intelligence. He linked to a HuffPost article from 2018 to prove this was true when a journalist pointed out that he was never confirmed by the Senate in his temporary national intelligence position.

Grenell defended himself, noting that the Senate confirmed him as ambassador to Germany – however, the Senate never voted on his position as acting director of national intelligence.

That HuffPost article notes that Grenell’s confirmation as ambassador to Germany was delayed at the time due to concerns about past sexist comments he had made about women.

There was much controversy in American politics when Grenell was appointed as acting director of national intelligence, a role he performed alongside his ambassadorship to Germany, with The New York Times noting that he had “little experience in intelligence or in running a large bureaucracy”.

By comparison, Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was confirmed in his position in a landslide vote on Tuesday after winning backing from both Democrats and Republicans. With 86 votes, Buttigieg became the second most popular of Biden‘s nominees so far in the Senate, behind only retired general and incoming defence secretary Lloyd Austin.

Buttigieg’s confirmation was celebrated by the LGBTQ Victory Institute, which works to support queer representation in politics, with Annise Parker praising him for having shattered “a centuries-old political barrier with overwhelming bipartisan support”.