The White House called on former Vice President Mike Pence to apologize for a “homophobic joke” he made about Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
A spokesperson for Pence, however, has accused the Biden administration of ginning up “faux outrage” to distract from its failures.
Pence was speaking at the March 11 Gridiron Club Dinner, an annual event attracting prominent members of the Washington press corps.
The event features satirical skits and musical acts lampooning notable political figures, and comedic speeches by the President of the United States and representatives of the two major political parties.
Pence, the representative for the GOP, joked about President Joe Biden, several Republicans expected to run for president in 2024, and even made blistering comments about his former boss, former President Donald Trump.
Pence then trained his sights on his fellow Hoosier, quipping that if Biden doesn’t run for re-election, there’s “Pete Buttigieg, who’s an old friend of mine.”
Buttigieg, who previously served as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, when Pence was governor of the state, has previously attacked Pence’s alleged homophobia and his support for a since-amended “religious freedom” law that critics said, in its original version, would have allowed blatant discrimination against LGBTQ people.
“When Pete’s two children were born,” Pence continued, “he took two months’ maternity leave, where upon thousands of travelers were stranded in airports, the air traffic system shut down, airplanes nearly collided in midair.
“I mean, Pete Buttigieg is the only person in human history to have a child and all the rest of us get postpartum depression.”
Buttigieg took two months of paternity leave shortly after adopting twins with his husband, Chasten, in September 2021, prompting right-wing pundits to criticize him for doing so.
The White House did not take kindly to the joke, with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre taking aim at Pence in a statement.
“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,” Jean-Pierre said. “He should apologize to women and LGBTQ people, who are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.”
In August 2022, Buttigieg revealed in a Medium post that the twins were born prematurely and had to spend two weeks in the hospital before they could go home. One of the twins developed severe reflux, and both were diagnosed with the respiratory virus RSV, requiring another lengthy stay in the hospital.
“For us, it just meant a nasty cold, but for premature infants like them it was a serious threat,” Buttigieg wrote. “Parenting is lots of things, and one of those things is terror. You watch your infant, sedated and surrounded by wires and tubes and monitors and medical personnel coming and going constantly, and wonder how we could live in a universe where a few weeks could be all that a child gets on this earth.”
Lis Smith, a Democratic pundit who previously worked on Buttigieg’s unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2020, piled on Pence along with the White House, tweeting that Pence’s joke showed he is “an unambiguous asshole.”
Politico teased tonight’s Gridiron as an opportunity for Mike Pence to show his hidden humorous side.
Instead, Pence shared with us that he’s an unambiguous asshole. https://t.co/KDldrBjEST
— Lis Smith (@Lis_Smith) March 12, 2023
Smith subsequently tweeted out stories referring to the health complications that the Buttigieg twins had experienced shortly after their birth to highlight Pence’s insensitivity.
Chasten Buttigieg, the husband of the Transportation Secretary, also took offense, attacking Pence from his own Twitter account.
“An honest question for you, Mike Pence, after your attempted joke this weekend. 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?” Chasten Buttigieg tweeted on March 13.
An honest question for you, @Mike_Pence, after your attempted joke this weekend. 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? pic.twitter.com/pCWvl8pb5N
— Chasten Buttigieg (@Chasten) March 13, 2023
But Marc Short, an adviser and former chief of staff to Pence, pushed back, accusing Democrats of seeking to distract from their policy failures by unfairly attacking his former boss.
“The Biden administration should spare America the faux outrage,” Short told Fox News in a statement, which he later repeated on Twitter. “The hypocrisy is especially rich considering their own Secretary of State Antony Blinken” — who spoke on behalf of the Biden administration at the Gridiron Club dinner — “joked that he yearned for ‘the old days’ when ‘Jews did all the work.’
“The White House would be wise to focus less on placating the woke police and focus more on bank failures, planes nearly colliding in midair, train derailments, and the continued supply chain crisis,” Short added.
Deputy White House Press Secretary Andrew Bates subsequently attacked Short on Twitter, blasting the Trump-Pence administration for their opposition to abortion, and attributing the collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank to policies pushed by the previous administration.
“Attacking a parent for taking leave when their infants were in the hospital is a poor definition of ‘family values,'” tweeted Bates. “So is denying women the right to make their own health decisions while blocking child care. And who deregulated banks like SVB? The Trump-Pence Administration.”
Attacking a parent for taking leave when their infants were in the hospital is a poor definition of "family values."
So is denying women the right to make their own health decisions while blocking child care.
And who deregulated banks like SVB? The Trump-Pence Administration. https://t.co/pJNSPB5yQ7
— Andrew Bates (@AndrewJBates46) March 13, 2023
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