Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Sunday defended being AWOL on paternity leave amid the US’s crippling supply-chain crisis — while warning the upheaval could stretch into the holidays and beyond.
Buttigieg said he considers his leave “not a vacation, it’s work” — as he offered no new short-term solutions to the mess that has left cargo ships idling off US ports and threatens to disrupt Christmas.
“A lot of the challenges that we’ve been experiencing this year will continue into next year, but there are both short-term and long-term steps that we can take to do something about,” said Buttigieg, who has been on paternity leave since mid-August, to CNN’s “State of the Union.”
He then proceeded to mention a move President Biden announced last week — that Los Angeles’s port would begin operating ’round-the-clock — and how his agency is already “working with the state [Departments of Motor Vehicles] to cut some of the red tape for issuing commercial driver’s licenses” to try to get more transit moving.
Asked whether the National Guard might be brought in, Buttigieg replied, “We’re constantly going to re-evaluate all of our options, but the steps we’re taking right now we’re going to make a difference.”
The former Democratic presidential candidate said the sight of barren store shelves across the country are at least partly the fault of consumers.
“Part of what’s happening isn’t just the supply side, it’s the demand side,” Buttigieg said. “Demand is off the charts, retail sales are through the roof. … Demand is up because income is up, because the president has successfully guided this economy out of the terrifying recession.”
The transportation secretary has been blasted by critics for being missing in action for two months while on leave after the birth of twins Penelope Rose and Joseph August Buttigieg in August with hubby Chasten Buttigieg.
Meanwhile, the nation is reeling as it tries to sort out the shipping crisis that is hitting Americans in the wallet and causing a shortage of clothing, sneakers, bicycles and cars. The supply disruption threatens to increase the cost of toys as much as 10 percent and jeopardize the likelihood of in-demand gifts even being in stock this Christmas.
“As you might imagine, we’re bottle-feeding, and doing it at all hours of the day and night,” Buttigieg told CNN’s Jake Tapper of juggling his babies with his husband.
“And I’m not going to apologize to Tucker Carlson or anyone else for taking care of my premature newborn infant twins,” he said referring to the Fox News host who mocked Buttigieg for trying to “figure out how to breastfeed.
“The work that we are doing is joyful, fulfilling, wonderful work. It’s important work. And it’s work that every American ought to be able to do when they welcome a new child into their family,” the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., said.
Tapper said he was “thrilled” for the secretary and his family but questioned why he didn’t announce he would be away on leave and appoint an acting secretary in the interim.
Buttigieg only surfaced to address his absence during a national transportation crisis after his paternity leave was reported last week by Politico.
Buttigieg told CNN that Polly Trottenberg, the department’s deputy secretary, has been “doing phenomenal work” while filling in during his absence.
“Even though I have been on maternity leave, and I’m proud of it, obviously, given the nature of my job, when you take a job like mine, you understand and accept that you’re going to have to be available 24/7, depending on what’s going on, and you’re going to have to engage,” he claimed.
“And I did, even if that meant taking a phone call or making a decision from a hospital room. But I am so thankful for the phenomenal work that my colleagues at the Department of Transportation have done and are doing,” he continued.
Buttigieg said Congress could help alleviate the gridlock of goods by passing President Biden’s stalled infrastructure bills amid infighting among Democrats.
“There are $17 billion in the president’s infrastructure plan for ports alone. And we need to deal with these long-term issues that have made us vulnerable to these kinds of bottlenecks when there are demand fluctuations, shocks and disruptions like the ones that have been caused by the pandemic,” Buttigieg said.
“The reality is that America needs both of those pieces of legislation, not only to make sure that we have the right kind of infrastructure, but to make sure that life gets better in this country for people trying to raise children,” he said, referring to the childcare provisions in Biden’s $3.5 trillion legislation.