Jen Psaki shuts down right-wing attempt to attack Pete Buttigieg over his paternity leave

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds a press briefing on Friday August 6, 2021, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds a press briefing on Friday August 6, 2021, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. Photo: Official White House Photo by Erin Scott

Earlier this week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki shut down a far-right reporter’s attempts to suggest that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is abandoning his responsibilities because he has taken a paternity leave to take care of his two newborn children.

Newsmax White House Correspondent Emerald Robinson tried asking a series of follow-up questions during Tuesday’s Press Briefing, and one of them was about Buttigieg’s leave. Except she didn’t have all her facts in order before asking the question.

Related: Pete Buttigieg delivered a sharp clapback to Tucker Carlson’s bigoted “breast feeding” comment

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“Given the seriousness of the — the supply chain crisis and the multiple issues that you outlined, wouldn’t it be wise for the Secretary to get back on the bicycle, so to speak, and come back to work?” Robinson asked Psaki. She then cited an unnamed poll claiming that “65 percent of voters think… he should.”

Psaki, clarifying, responded matter-of-factly, “He is at work.”

Robinson, not seeming to understand what Psaki means, says back, “He’s on paternity leave.”

Psaki, again responded simply by stating, “I was on a conference call with him this morning.”

Robinson, unsure where to turn with her question from there, reframes it by asking, “He’s in the department now, every day?”

“Listen, Emerald,” Psaki snaps back, “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.

“That is the policy of this administration. That is what we’re pressing to make law so it’s a reality for women, parents, fathers across the country. And we’re not going to back away from that.”

Before Psaki can move on, Robinson again responds back by bringing it back to “supply chain issues,” stating that “as one of my colleagues noted, we knew the supply chain issues were coming.”

Psaki once again clarifies, “Well, Emerald, just to be clear, we are quite confident in the capabilities, the talents of the civil servants, the leadership at the Department of Transportation, just are — as we are at companies across the country where women, men take maternity and paternity leave.”

She then highlights the double standard of the focus on Buttigieg’s parental leave.

“I took 12 weeks of maternity leave when I was the White House Communications Director, and I’m grateful to former President Obama for that and for leadership at the time for that,” Psaki shared. “This is something men and women should have. They should have this time to bond with their children. [We’re] not going to apologize… for that from here. And, certainly, we are able to get the job done for the American people in the interim.”

Psaki then tries to move on to other reporters in the room, but Robinson, disregarding how the press briefings operate, spends several minutes trying to interrupt to ask Psaki yet another follow-up question.

First she asks who was “the point person” in Buttigieg’s absence, which can easily be determined based on the Department of Transportation’s hierarchy, an organizational chart which every Cabinet department and federal government position within the order of precedence has available publicly.

After answering that there are “a range of officials who keep that place humming, functioning every single day,” Robinson tries to ask another question.

“Emerald, I think we’ve spent plenty of time with you today,” she states.

“You spend more with other people,” Robinson whines.

“Let’s give some other people more time here, okay?” Psaki has to tell her, like a teacher to a child.

Secretary Buttigieg, meanwhile, spent much of the last week making appearances on television shows explaining why conservatives who criticized him for taking paternity leave to raise his newborn children are full of it.

“When somebody welcomes a new child into their family and goes on leave to take care of that child, that’s not a vacation,” Buttigieg said on Meet the Press this past weekend. “It’s work. It’s joyful, wonderful, fulfilling work, but it is work.”

“And it’s time that our nation join pretty much every other country in the world and recognize that.”

Editor’s Note: A previous headline for this article incorrectly stated that Secretary Buttigieg took “maternity” leave instead of paternity leave. We regret the error.

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