WASHINGTON (TND) — U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg declined a meeting with Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley while on paternity leave, despite saying multiple times that, in his position as secretary, he remains available “24/7.”
Buttigieg has been criticized for taking paternity leave amid the 2021 supply chain crisis and for being absent from several other major transportation crises, including the Southwest Airlines 2022 holiday travel debacle.
But the Transportation Secretary has balked at these criticisms, going so far as calling them “nonsense” in an interview with Fox News’s Brett Baier.
Read More: “‘It’s nonsense’: Buttigieg balks at criticism he kept a ‘low profile’ during Southwest debacle”
Buttigieg has argued adamantly against his critics, noting repeatedly that his “job is 24/7,” including “if you’re on leave.”
Now, look, even though I have been on maternity leave ... obviously, given the nature of my job, when you take a job like mine, you understand and accept that you're going to have to be available 24/7, depending on what's going on, and you're going to have to engage,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper in October 2021.
But according to emails obtained by watchdog group Protect the Public’s Trust, via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the Transportation Secretary’s availability may not be what he claims it should be.
“Senator Grassley would like to speak to Secretary Buttigieg about the status of a Buy American Waiver Request for the I-74 bridge,” a Sept. 20, 2021 email from Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley’s scheduling director, Jennifer Heins, to Buttigieg’s Assistant Secretary of Government Affairs, Mohsin Syed, reads. “Can we set up a phone call please?”
In response, Buttigieg’s team rebuffed the meeting request.
I appreciate you reaching out regarding a meeting between Senator Grassley and the Secretary regarding the Buy America waiver matter involving the I-74 bridge," Syed responded. "Unfortunately, the Secretary is currently on leave due to the birth of twins, and that may lead to a delay in possibly scheduling a meeting in the near future."
Syed concluded by suggesting Grassley's team either wait until after Buttigieg returned from paternity leave, or speak with one of his underlings, Deputy Secretary of Transportation Polly Trottenberg or Deputy Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration Stephanie Pollack.
The National Desk (TND) reached out to the Department of Transportation (DOT) for comment and was told by the agency that Buttigieg kept himself available for more urgent matters, but less urgent matters were “delegated.”
This request came in while Secretary Buttigieg was on parental leave and was handled appropriately,” the agency said in a statement to TND. “As he has indicated, the Secretary remained available during his leave to address emergencies and matters that urgently required his attention and less urgent matters were delegated, as is typical when a federal official is on family leave. In this case, DOT offered a call with the FHWA Administrator overseeing the issue, and staff worked with the Senator’s office to answer his question. Senator Grassley’s office indicated to DOT that they were satisfied with the response.”