As the U.S. faces a never-before-seen supply chain crisis, with record numbers of ships stuck off the coast and hundreds of thousands of shipping containers unable to be unloaded, the person whose job it is to oversee transportation in the country is nowhere to be found.
Amid the growing supply chain problems, President Joe Biden’s Transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, has been out of office on paid paternity leave for the last two months as he and husband Chasten added two newborns to their family.
“They didn’t previously announce it, but Buttigieg’s office told [Politico’s] West Wing Playbook that the secretary has actually been on paid leave since mid-August to spend time with his husband, Chasten, and their two newborn babies,” Politico reported Thursday.
Is leave feasible?
The Department of Transportation said Buttigieg was “mostly offline” during the time when the crisis was growing.
“For the first four weeks, he was mostly offline except for major agency decisions and matters that could not be delegated,” a spokesperson for the department told Politico. “He has been ramping up activities since then.”
The spokesperson also said Buttigieg, a former small-town mayor and failed presidential candidate, would “continue to take some time over the coming weeks to support his husband and take care of his new children.”
Buttigieg is the highest-profile person in government to ever take parental leave. Typically, if the job and family don’t mix well, Cabinet-level personnel and top White House advisers have just resigned to allow someone else with more bandwidth to do the job.
Buttigieg’s refusal to step aside raises the question: Should Cabinet-level officials really be able to take leave for non-medical reasons? Also, who has been making decisions about the supply chain problems in Buttigieg’s absence?
Empty Shelves Joe
It wasn’t clear whether President Joe Biden approved the leave for Buttigieg personally, but an administration official seemed to be positive about the idea.
“Pete’s been a key member of the team since Day One, and has been critical as we shepherd the President’s agenda across the finish line,” the official told Politico. “We’re overjoyed for him and Chasten, and believe every American should have access to paid family leave.”
Meanwhile, Biden is bearing the brunt of Buttigieg’s absence as the hashtag #EmptyShelvesJoe has begun to trend on Twitter and other social media platforms.
Not that Buttigieg — who couldn’t even fix the potholes in South Bend, Indiana when he was mayor — would really have helped the situation much.