Buttigieg aims to use Tucker Carlson flap to spotlight paternity leave
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is aiming to use the fierce criticism he faced from conservatives over taking paternity leave as a way to have a conversation about the issue, amid efforts from the White House to get paid family leave into a social spending bill pending in Congress.
“The negativity was unfortunate but, in a way, maybe some good comes out of it too because it’s helped us have a conversation about parental leave,” Buttigieg said this week.
Buttigieg took shots for taking paternity leave during the supply chain crisis from Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who criticized his absence from work.
“Paternity leave, they call it; trying to figure out how to breastfeed. No word on how that went,” Carlson said during a segment earlier this month.
Buttigieg, the first openly gay Cabinet official in U.S. history, and his husband announced the birth of twins Penelope Rose and Joseph August. Buttigieg reportedly started his leave in mid-August.
Carlson’s high-profile criticism drew attention to Buttigeig and the larger issue of paternity leave, something the Transportation secretary went on to discuss during a series of appearances.
During an interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Buttigeig said that “paid family leave is important” and noted that “it’s not a vacation.” Separately, on CNN’s “State of the Union,” he said it’s work that “every American ought to be able to do” when they have a new child.
He has stressed that paid leave is still work when asked on ABC’s “The View” how to shed the stigma around paternity leave.
“Culturally, we do have to get across the idea that this is work. My work day as secretary of Transportation starts at a relatively normal hour. My work day as a job starts around three in the morning,” he said.
He also said that parents need to be supported when they take leave, regardless of gender.
“This is important for women who find their ability to get ahead in their careers influenced by these judgments that are being made about whether you can be a parent and an effective employee at the same time. But also men. If there’s this idea that, you know, men have access to paternity leave but it’s frowned on if they actually use it, obviously that doesn’t work for a marriage like mine but also for a man who’s married to a woman,” he said.
The White House has also drawn attention to the issue and pushed back on a Newsmax reporter’s questioning this week about whether it would have been wise for Buttigieg, who is known to bike to his office, to “get back on the bicycle, so to speak, and come back to work?”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki replied that Buttigieg is at work, adding that she was on a conference call with him that morning when the reporter replied that he’s on paternity leave.
“I think what you’re getting at here is this question about whether men, parents, women should have paternity and maternity leave. And the answer is absolutely yes, in our view,” Psaki said. “That is the policy of this administration.”
The debate over paternity leave comes at a critical time for the issue legislatively.
Advocates for paid leave are pressing to get strong provisions included in the social spending bill being crafted by Congress. The Biden administration had been pressing for 12 weeks of leave in the measure, which Democrats plan to pass through budget rules that prevent Republicans from filibustering the measure in the Senate.
The problem has been getting all 50 Democrats on the same page. Opposition to the $3.5 trillion cost from centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are forcing the administration to reduce the size of the bill to somewhere in the $2 trillion range.
On Thursday, President Biden announced that his paid family and medical leave proposal has been slashed from 12 weeks to four weeks to bring down the price tag.
Advocates pay both fathers and mothers should be able to take time away from their jobs to care for newborn children.
“Children need the same kind of care and attention and bonding time with their parents no matter what gender their parents are,” said Jessica Mason, senior policy analyst at National Partnership for Women & Families.
This should also be the case regardless of their income or jobs, Mason said.
“This is not a conversation where it makes sense to be pitting the white-collar workers against the blue-collar workers or the high-income workers against the lower-income workers,” Mason said.
“I got the sense from some of the coverage that people think some workers are more or less necessary at their workplaces and one of the things about paid family leave and medical leave at large is that some worker at some point is going to need time away, whether it’s for a child, a health condition, or an aging parent,” she added.
Biden on Thursday in arguing for his proposals noted that the U.S. is one of the few industrial countries that doesn’t have paid leave. He said adding it would not hurt businesses or the economy.
Progressive Democrats sent a letter to Biden, Senate Majority Leader Charles (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urging them to include a more robust family and medical paid leave program after the news that the emerging legislation will just include just four weeks.
Buttigieg on NBC’s “Meet the Press” called it the “president’s vision” for paid family leave to be in the Democrat’s massive spending bill.
“The American people want this too. And frankly, I view this as something, or I wish at least that this were something that Republicans could join Democrats in calling for,” he said.
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