Washington — The White House called on former Vice President Mike Pence to apologize for what it called a “homophobic” joke he made over the weekend about Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s decision to take paternity leave when his twins were born.
In a speech at the annual Gridiron Club dinner in Washington on Saturday, Pence said Buttigieg, who is the first openly gay Cabinet secretary in U.S. history, took “maternity leave” while Americans faced airline problems in 2021.
“Pete is the only person in human history to have a child and everyone else gets postpartum depression,” Pence said.
Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten, adopted twins who were born prematurely and spent weeks in the hospital with health issues in the fall of 2021. On Monday, Chasten Buttigieg tweeted a photo of his husband holding one of the newborns in a hospital room and directed a question to the former vice president.
“An honest question for you, [Mike Pence], after your attempted joke this weekend,” he wrote. “If your grandchild was born prematurely and placed on a ventilator at two months old — their tiny fingers wrapped around yours as the monitors beep in the background — where would you be?”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who was on the dais at the dinner during the speech, said Pence should apologize to women and the LGBTQ community.
“The former vice president’s homophobic joke about Secretary Buttigieg was offensive and inappropriate, all the more so because he treated women suffering from postpartum depression as a punchline,” she said in a statement. “He should apologize to women and LGBTQ people, who are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Marc Short, Pence’s former chief of staff, dismissed the White House’s criticism as “faux outrage.”
“The hypocrisy is especially rich considering their own Secretary of State Antony Blinken joked that he yearned for ‘the old days’ when ‘Jews did all the work,'” Short said. “The White House would be wise to focus less on placating the woke police and focus more on bank failures, planes nearly colliding in mid-air, train derailments, and the continued supply chain crisis.”
The Gridiron dinner is an annual white-tie affair that attracts hundreds of journalists and politicians, who perform satirical skits and comedic routines.
Kristin Brown and Ed O’Keefe contributed reporting.