The Department of Transportation revealed late Thursday that Secretary Pete Buttigieg has been on paternity leave since mid-August amid the massive ongoing supply-chain crisis that is threatening the timely delivery of everyday consumer goods and holiday gifts, according to a new report.
Besides several recent television hits, Buttigieg has been lying low, Politico reported, citing his office. Buttigieg’s team told the outlet that the secretary has been on paternity leave for nearly two months to spend time with his husband and two newborn babies and plans to continue to give them support in the coming weeks. The office had not previously announced his time off.
The report comes as dozens of large ships remained stuck in a traffic jam near the Los Angeles coast for more than a month waiting to dock and unload goods including toasters, sneakers, bicycles and cars. A shortage of truckers has also prevented companies from distributing supplies across the country.
As the holidays approach, experts warned that the cost of children’s toys is up as much as 10 percent, noting many in-demand gifts will likely be out of stock soon.
“For the first four weeks, he was mostly offline except for major agency decisions and matters that could not be delegated,” a spokesperson said of Buttigeg’s absence in the crisis. “He has been ramping up activities since then.”
At the same time, the secretary will “continue to take some time over the coming weeks to support his husband and take care of his new children.”
On Aug. 17, Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten, revealed the two had become dads but said the process wasn’t “done yet.”
“For some time, Chasten and I have wanted to grow our family. We’re overjoyed to share that we’ve become parents!” the former South Bend, Ind., mayor tweeted.
“The process isn’t done yet and we’re thankful for the love, support, and respect for our privacy that has been offered to us. We can’t wait to share more soon.”
Just over two weeks later on Sept. 4, the couple introduced their infant twins with a black-and-white photo, shared on Twitter and Instagram, that showed the couple cuddling the swaddled newborns side by side in a hospital bed.
As US ports struggle to solve the supply chain debacle, Buttigieg has been slammed by Republicans for staying silent. Some doubt he can help solve the crisis, blaming his lack of experience.
“Pete Buttigieg was completely unqualified to serve as Secretary of Transportation,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) tweeted Monday. “Now, Pete is absent during a transportation crisis that is hurting working-class Americans.”
On Wednesday, Cotton followed up on his critique of the secretary, claiming he couldn’t “organize a one-car funeral.”
“At the same time, the White House is saying that you’re probably not going to get everything you want for Christmas. Well, who’s gonna save Christmas for Americans? Pete Buttigieg? I mean, please. Pete Buttigieg couldn’t organize a one-car funeral. He’s not going to organize our nation’s ports and railroads and highways and airports,” Cotton told “Fox News Primetime.”
Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), blamed the administration for focusing too much on passing President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda rather than handling the supply-chain crisis directly, telling the Washington Examiner that there “is more that the Department of Transportation can and should be doing to help address ongoing supply chain issues related to the pandemic.”
“We’re well over a year into this, and I’m concerned that the Biden administration seems more focused on pushing Congress to massively expand the federal bureaucracy rather than using their existing authorities to help American businesses and consumers get back to normal.”
Since Oct. 7, Politico reported, the transportation secretary has amped up his television appearances and has since been featured on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” “MSNBC with Geoff Bennett,” CNN’s “New Day,” CNBC’s “Morning Bell,” Bloomberg TV’s “Balance of Power” and “The NPR Politics Podcast.”
He attended and participated in multiple infrastructure-related virtual events, and attended a meeting on the supply-chain backups with Biden on Wednesday.
Amid the criticism, Buttigieg has defended the administration’s efforts, blaming the reliance on supply chains “built generations ago.”
“It’s one of the reasons why this entire year we have been talking about and working on infrastructure and are eager to see Congress to act to get this infrastructure deal through,” he told CNN, later adding, “This is a largely private-sector system, and a global one at that, but there are a lot of steps that we can take as an administration, as an honest broker.”
While in recent years it is not uncommon for high-profile politicians to take paid leave when becoming new parents, cabinet secretaries in the past have not always taken more than a few weeks.
Julian Castro, housing secretary in the Obama administration, only took a “week or so” of paternity leave, his office told Politico.
Per the Office of Personnel Management, cabinet secretaries are not eligible for the same paid family leave benefits as other federal workers, making it hard to justify leaving for long periods of time. However, the president can “choose to allow him to take time off.”
While it is unclear if Biden approved Buttigieg’s paternity leave, the White House has called the secretary a “key member of the team,” saying, “We’re overjoyed for him and Chasten, and believe every American should have access to paid family leave.”
On Wednesday, the president offered his support for his transportation secretary, thanking Buttigieg — as well as Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack — for his leadership in the supply chain disruption task force set up in June.