The White House on Monday called on Mike Pence to apologize for his remark that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg had gone on “maternity leave,” saying that the former vice president’s “homophobic joke” at the Gridiron Club dinner on Saturday was “offensive and inappropriate.”
“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,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “He should apologize to women and LGBTQ people, who are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Pence delivered the line Saturday evening at the annual Gridiron Club dinner in Washington, DC – an event bringing together some of the city’s most prominent journalists, including from CNN, and the government officials they cover. It traditionally features politicians making jokes about notable Washington figures.
The former vice president quipped that if President Joe Biden doesn’t run for reelection, “there’s Pete Buttigieg, who’s an old friend of mine.”
“When Pete’s two children were born, 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,” Pence said. “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, who served as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, while Pence was governor of the state, adopted twins with his husband, Chasten, in September 2021. After announcing he would take two months paternity leave to be with his newborn son and daughter, Buttigieg received an onslaught of negative reactions from right-wing pundits.
“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 Monday afternoon.
Pence’s former chief of staff Marc Short on Monday responded to the Biden White House’s statement with one of his own, saying that the administration “should spare America the faux outrage” and that it “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.”
During the dinner, Pence also took shots at Biden and several Republicans expected to run for president in 2024, even directing some blistering comments toward his former boss, Donald Trump.
CNN’s Jack Forrest, Paul LeBlanc, Jasmine Wright and Sam Fossum contributed to this report.