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Please Do Not Go After Pete Buttigieg for Taking Paternity Leave

Republicans are melting down over newly public emails showing Buttigieg not working while on paternity leave in 2021. That's not a fair reason to criticize him.

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Photo: Bloomberg (Getty Images)

Getting around the country over this past holiday season has been hell, and so it’s not exactly unfair to be critical of Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg—especially when his latest public remarks on the recent, utter chaos plaguing airports this week were something akin to a meaningless, corporate listicle. But one reason to not come for the former South Bend, Indiana mayor is that he took time off work to raise his kids and be with his family, which is well within his rights as a worker.

Still, that hasn’t stopped Fox News from yet again descending into a meltdown over Buttigieg’s paternity leave in 2021—a whole two years later. In a Thursday report, the outlet cites documents obtained by the office of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) via FOIA request that show the transportation secretary—gasp!—not taking work-related calls or scheduling meetings while he was out on paternity leave and spending time with his newborn twins. Grassley requested the documents as he lobbied Buttigieg for funds for a new bridge in his state, shortly before Buttigieg left on paternity leave.

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“Unfortunately, the Secretary is currently on leave due to the birth of his twins, and that may lead to a delay in possibly scheduling in the future,” a staffer for Buttigieg emailed Grassley’s office at one point, per the documents.

In October 2021, another email shows a staffer explaining that Buttigieg couldn’t attend the opening of a bridge in Illinois: “The Secretary is currently out on paternity leave therefore he is unable to travel at this time,” they wrote. Missing a cute little ceremony to be with your family—how scandalous!

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Truly brilliant investigative reporting, Fox—you’ve just discovered what being “on leave” means: not taking calls, or going to work events, or working, because you’re on leave.

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Fox News isn’t exactly a pro-worker outlet that would encourage anyone to take time off to be with their families. But coming from the primary media arm for the rabidly anti-LGBTQ party of “family values,” it’s pretty transparent that what they really take issue with is Buttigieg’s nontraditional family with his same-sex partner, Chasten. He’s a gay man who went on paternity leave to be with his husband and their two adopted twins—so Fox was obviously going to find some reason to lose it over this. But it is truly, almost comically pathetic to still be harping on about this non-scandal nearly two years later.

Look, there are a lot of reasons to be pissed at the Department of Transportation and its leader right now. Airlines have received billions in federal subsidies in recent years, directed massive amounts of this funding to line their CEOs’ pockets, and amid a winter storm over the holidays, thousands of people were left stranded for hours or even days in airports across the country. It’s truly fucked!

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But Pete Buttigieg repeatedly taking heat for going on paternity leave for a few weeks, again, two years ago, isn’t a critique of airlines’ unfettered bullshit—it’s a critique of parents, including LGBTQ parents, taking the time that they and their families need to be with their kids.

In October 2021, amid predictable attacks from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson at the time, Buttigieg told the ladies of The View that he hoped “some good” would come out of the comments. “It’s helped us have a conversation about parental leave,” he said. “Every American ought to be able to get paid parental leave. That’s something that the president believes in and has proposed. It’s something I believe.”

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And on Friday, shortly after Fox News published its latest report on Buttigieg’s paternity leave, Chasten weighed in on Twitter: “This morning the twins helped pick our their sweaters, scooted down the stairs, ran to their chairs, and sat at the table eating scrambled eggs with forks. They said ‘bye bye dada’ on the way out the door,” he wrote. “It’s been 17 months. You need new material. Go yell at an M&M.”

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To Chasten’s point, Fox News actually has devoted a significant amount of screen time to yelling at M&Ms of late—perhaps their recent anti-worker, anti-LGBTQ attacks on Buttigieg and his family are their best attempt to show they have range.