For the past year, Republicans have attacked out Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for allegedly using “private jets” for official travel. The attack made it into yesterday’s House Transportation & Infrastructure Hearing where Buttigieg testified.
“Secretary Buttigieg, since taking the role you’ve traveled quite a bit, including private flights,” said Rep. Eric Burlison (R-MO). “How often do you use private flights?”
Pete wasn’t having it.
Republicans have repeatedly referred to the use of government aircraft as “private jets” when attacking Buttigieg, even though “private” means the literal opposite of “government owned and operated.” And that’s where Buttigieg started.
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“So I’m assuming by ‘private flights’ you mean the use of government aircraft assigned to my agency,” Buttigieg said. “I knew this might come up, so I brought some numbers.”
“Since getting this job, I have taken six hundred – these are estimates, give or take a couple – but I’ve taken 638 flights-“
“Were any of those commercial?” Burleson interrupted.
“607 of them were commercial,” Buttigieg responded. That represents 95% of the total flights. “Ten of them were on military aircraft such as Air Force One, and 21 of them were on FAA aircraft, representing about 3% of the flights.”
Burlison then brought up a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made to the Department of Transportation (DOT) for the cost of travel, and Buttigieg said that the DOT was complying with the FOIA request.
“We will always comply with FOIA,” Buttigieg said, “but I appreciate the chance to discuss this, because I can’t help but get the sense that some people want to make it sound as if I don’t travel most of the time on commercial aircraft, which of course is untrue.”
Burlison said that it’s “ironic” that people in his district are being forced to convert to electric vehicles (this is not true) while “not everyone gets to travel the way that you do.”
“Just, once again, the way I usually travel is in economy class aboard an airliner like everybody else,” Buttigieg responded. “When we do it differently, it’s often because it will save taxpayer money.”
“I’m so glad you asked this because I’m kind of excited to share-” Buttigieg started before Burlison changed the topic.
Conservative pundits and politicians have been using the “private jets” line to attack Buttigieg for a while now. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) tweeted in June: “The Secretary of Transportation has pushed for less air travel ‘to protect the environment’ yet flies around on a private jet. There’s no denying [Pete Buttigieg] and the Biden administration are a bunch of hypocrites.”
In February, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson raged at Buttigieg for taking a commercial flight and falling asleep on it.
“Buttigieg flew commercial for once, hopped a flight back to D.C., and promptly passed out,” Carlson bellowed several months before he lost his show. “He was exhausted from a whole day of doing nothing.”
In January, conservatives were angry that Buttigieg led a White House delegation to the Invictus Games in the Netherlands and took a military flight. His husband Chasten accompanied him. Previous U.S. delegations, which were led by people like former Secretary of the Army Mark Esper and his wife, Donald and Melania Trump, and Barack and Michelle Obama, never drew this attention.
“I led a presidential delegation to support American wounded warriors and injured servicemembers, the Invictus Games,” Buttigieg said in a Fox News interview at the time. “It was one of the great honors of my time in this job. And the diplomatic protocol, on a presidential delegation, is that the principal is often accompanied by their spouse.”
“The question on my mind is, if no one’s raising questions about why Secretary Esper and his wife led that delegation – as well they should have – why is it any different when it’s me and my husband?”