Photo: Alan Freed/Reuters
The White House on Monday rebuked former Republican Vice President Mike Pence for making jokes about US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, maternity leave and postpartum depression that he said were homophobic and offensive to women.
Related: Mike Pence: History will hold Donald Trump accountable for the attack on the Capitol
“He should apologize to women and LGBTQ+ people,” said Joe Biden’s publicist Karine Jean-Pierre.
Buttigieg is the first openly gay cabinet secretary to be confirmed by the US Senate.
He and his husband Chasten Buttigieg have twins. In October 2021, as the US faced supply chain problems and known problems with rail and air transport delays and safety, the two babies were hospitalized.
At the time, Pete Buttigieg described “a terrible couple of days” for the family.
He also responded to right-wing criticism and homophobic remarks from Fox News host Tucker Carlson, calling the criticism of his parenting and use of parental leave “strange”, from “a side of the aisle that used to claim the mantle of being family-friendly”. .
Pence, an evangelical Christian who was a congressman and governor of Indiana before becoming Donald Trump’s vice president, is now considering running for the Republican presidential nomination.
He spoke with light-hearted speech at the Gridiron dinner, a non-partisan event in Washington, on Saturday. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy spoke for the Democrats and Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke for the Biden administration.
Pence made headlines for saying on January 6 that Donald Trump had “endangered my family” and dismissing attempts by right-wingers, including Carlson, to downplay the attack on Congress.
But when it came to his jokes, Pence aimed for Buttigieg.
Pence said the secretary had taken “maternity leave” from her job, adding: “Thousands of travelers were stranded in airports, the air traffic system was shut down and planes nearly collided on our runways.
“Pete is the only person in the history of mankind who has had a child, and everyone else gets postpartum depression.”
The Associated Press said the comments sparked criticism “before dinner was over.”
On Monday, Jean-Pierre said: “The former Vice-President’s homophobic joke about Minister Buttigieg was offensive and inappropriate, all the more so as it treated women suffering from postpartum depression as a punchline.
“He should apologize to women and LGBTQ+ people who are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Pence’s former chief of staff dismissed the White House’s rebuke.
“The hypocrisy is particularly high considering their own Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, joked that he was longing for ‘the old days’ when ‘Jews did all the work,'” Marc Short tweetedreferring to another remark made at dinner.
Chasten Buttigieg posted on Twitter a picture of his husband in hospital holding one of the twins and said he had “an honest question” for Pence.
“If your grandchild was born prematurely and was on a ventilator at two months old – his tiny fingers wrapped around yours while the monitors beeped in the background – where would you be?”
Pence did not immediately comment.
Before running for president and then joining Biden’s cabinet, Buttigieg served as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, for eight years. Pence was governor for four years and the two men worked well together.
But Pence has also drawn widespread criticism for his views on LGBTQ+ rights. During the 2019 election campaign, Buttigieg targeted the older man.
“If it was a decision that I was gay, it was a decision well above my pay grade,” Buttigieg said. “And I wish the Mike Pences of the world understood that: if you have a problem with who I am, your problem isn’t with me. Your quarrel, my lord, is with my Maker.”