OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has been out of his office on paternity leave after he and his husband welcomed two newborns amid a worsening supply chain crisis that is vexing the Biden administration ahead of the traditionally busy holiday shopping season.
In fact, according to reports late in the week, Buttigieg has been out on leave since August, nearly two months now as the supply and transport crisis has worsened.
While U.S. ports faced anchor-to-anchor traffic and Congress nearly melted down over the president’s infrastructure bill in recent weeks, the usually omnipresent Transportation secretary was lying low.
One of the White House’s go-to communicators didn’t appear on TV. He was absent on Capitol Hill during the negotiations over the bill he had been previously helping sell to different members of Congress. Conservative critics tried (unsuccessfully) to get #WheresPete to trend and Fox News ran a story on October 4 with the headline: “Buttigieg quiet on growing port congestion as shipping concerns build ahead of holidays.”
They didn’t previously announce it, but Buttigieg’s office told West Wing Playbook that the secretary has actually been on paid leave since mid-August to spend time with his husband, Chasten, and their two newborn babies.
“For the first four weeks, he was mostly offline except for major agency decisions and matters that could not be delegated,” a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation told Politico. “He has been ramping up activities since then.” As he does that, Buttigieg will “continue to take some time over the coming weeks to support his husband and take care of his new children,” the spokesperson added.
Buttigieg announced Aug. 17 that he and his husband had become fathers.
“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.
Two weeks later, the couple shared a black-and-white photo of themselves appearing in a hospital bed holding infant twins.
In the meantime, U.S. ports on both coasts have become inundated with cargo vessels, many having to dock for days on end due to an inability to offload them thanks to a dearth of dockworkers, truckers, and other elements of the domestic supply chain.
The White House over the summer put together a task force to help deal with the worsening problems, but Buttigieg was increasingly criticized by Republicans and others over his absence.
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.”
He stepped up his critique of Buttigieg on Wednesday, claiming the former mayor can’t even “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,” he told Fox News.
On Wednesday President Joe Biden, not Buttigieg, announced that the Port of Los Angeles would move to a 24/7 schedule in an attempt to relieve a 100-ship backlog as massive cargo vessels continue to pile up in the harbor. The Port of Long Beach has already moved to that schedule.
Meanwhile, Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, blamed the administration for spending too much time trying to pass Biden’s Build Back Better $3.5 trillion legislation rather than focusing on the supply chain crisis. She told 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,” she said.