Buttigieg responds to Pence's 'joke' on his 'maternity leave'

The secretary spoke to ABC News' "Life Out Loud with LZ Granderson" podcast.

March 27, 2023, 7:21 AM

For Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, fatherhood and politics are not mutually exclusive.

Since Buttigieg and his husband Chasten adopted newborn twins in 2021, the Democrat and his family have been repeatedly criticized and mocked by Republicans, including former Vice President Mike Pence. Most recently, Pence made what the White House described as a "homophobic joke" about Buttigieg taking parental leave.

"When Pete's two children were born, he took two months' maternity leave whereupon thousands of travelers were stranded in airports, the air traffic system shut down, and airplanes nearly collided on our runways," Pence reportedly said at the annual Gridiron Dinner for journalists and politicians in Washington, D.C., on March 11. "Pete is the only person in human history to have a child and everyone else gets postpartum depression."

Pence, who is considering a 2024 presidential run, has since refused to apologize and even doubled down on his controversial remarks.

"The Gridiron Dinner is a roast," he told reporters at a GOP dinner in New Hampshire on March 17. "I had a lot of jokes directed to me, and I directed a lot of jokes to Republicans and Democrats. The only thing I can figure is Pete Buttigieg not only can't do his job, but he can't take a joke."

In an interview airing Monday on ABC News' "Life Out Loud with LZ Granderson" podcast, Buttigieg said such "attacks" would bother him more if he wasn't "being daily reminded of what was so important."

"Don't get me wrong, it is galling for people, especially people who go on television talking about family values. And then when your actual family is struggling, they use it as a way to attack you or as a political football," the secretary said. "Don't get me wrong, that definitely gets to you at some level. But at another level, you realize that that's just politics."

The Buttigiegs' twin children, Penelope Rose and Joseph August "Gus," became sick with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) as premature infants. Both babies had to be hospitalized and put on oxygen. They have since fully recovered and are now healthy 19-month-olds.

"When you're face-to-face with a life-or-death struggle involving a child and that comes out OK, it becomes less important to you that the political game comes out OK," Buttigieg said. "Because if you got to choose between one of those things working out, it's an easy choice. The things you want and need most to work out is the wellbeing of your family and it allows you to remember that so much of the rest is noise. It doesn't make it OK and there are different ways in the political and the policy space that so many families are under attack right now and yet, when you can put it in that kind of perspective, at least in our journey in our path, it was one of the many ways that having kids gives you a healthy reality check on what matters most in life."

The secretary said comments like those made by Pence, who was previously governor of Indiana while Buttigieg was mayor of South Bend, "are a play for attention" and that focusing on his family is "the best answer."

"Don't get me wrong, we'll stick up for our family," he added. "Chasten has stuck up for our family in amazing ways, but the last thing you want to do is reward that kind of thing with your attention."

"I think the best answer to a lot of these attacks and a lot of this meanness that's out there, the best answer is to be a thriving family or to do everything you can to be a thriving family," he continued. "The best answer to people out there who don't even think we count as a real family is the love and the beauty of our family itself. It's not a zinger. It's not a tweet. It's something that those critics will maybe never see for themselves and wouldn't know how to respect if they did, which is the unconditional and enormous love that binds us together in this new family -- that gives a different kind of meaning to my life."