KEENE, N.H. – Former Vice President Mike Pence is defending a joke he told recently about Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg during an exclusive dinner and roast attended by politicians and journalists, which was later criticized by the White House and by Buttigieg’s husband.
"Pete is the only person in human history to have a child and everyone else gets postpartum depression," Pence said Saturday at the Gridiron Dinner, an annual invitation only white tie gathering in the nation’s capital where the invited speakers humorously make fun of themselves and others.
Pence, who has said he will decide in the spring on whether he will seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, was commenting on the family leave Buttigieg took after he and his husband Chasten adopted newborn twins in 2021.
"The Gridiron Dinner is a roast. I had a lot of jokes directed to me, and I directed a lot of jokes to Republicans and Democrats," Pence told reporters Thursday evening after headlining a Republican Party fundraising dinner in New Hampshire, the state that holds the second contest in the GOP’s presidential nominating calendar.
Side by side of former Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. (Getty Images)
"The only thing I can figure is Pete Buttigieg not only can’t do his job, but he can’t take a joke," he added.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre Monday told The Washington Blade, a liberal LGBTQ outlet, that Pence's joke was "homophobic," "offensive" and "inappropriate," and called on him to apologize "to women and LGBTQ people."
Marc Short, a top Pence adviser and former chief of staff to the then-vice president, responded by arguing that the White House was being hypocritical and that "the Biden administration should spare America the faux outrage…The White House would be wise to focus less on placating the woke police and focus more on bank failures, planes nearly colliding in midair, train derailments, and the continued supply chain crisis."
Chasten Buttigieg, in an interview Thursday on ABC’s "The View," said that Pence’s remarks are "part of a much bigger trend attacking families."
"I spoke up because we all have an obligation to hold people accountable for when they say something wrong, especially when it’s misogynistic, especially when it’s homophobic, and I just don’t take that when it’s towards my family, and I don’t think anyone else would, especially when you bring a very small, medically fragile child into it," he said.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, speaks with party activists in New Hampshire before keynoting the Cheshire County GOP annual Lincoln-Reagan fundraising dinner, on March 16, 2023, in Keene, New Hampshire. (Fox News )
Pence, a former Indiana governor, and Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, appeared to have a cordial relationship during their overlapping tenures in Hoosier state politics. However, Buttigieg, in his memoir about his career and his 2020 Democratic run for the White House, described his relationship with Pence as "complicated."
The former vice president, who has long been known as a champion of social conservative values and a friend to evangelical voters, said in a 2019 interview with CNBC that he and Buttigieg had a "great working relationship" and criticized Buttigieg’s characterization of his religious beliefs.
At the Gridiron Dinner, Pence made headlines by forcefully reiterating his criticism of former President Trump’s actions during the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capital by right wing extremists and other supporters of the then-president — including some chanting "hang Mike Pence" — who aimed to upend congressional certification of President Biden’s Electoral College victory that was overseen by the then-vice president.
Former President Trump speaks at a campaign event Monday, March 13, 2023, in Davenport, Iowa. (AP Photo/Ron Johnson)
However, Pence also took some jabs at Trump — who in November launched his third White House campaign — over his former running mate’s faith.
"I once invited President Trump to Bible study," Pence said in his speech at the event, which is closed to cameras and audio recording devices. "He really liked the passages about the smiting and perishing of thine enemies. As he put it, ‘Ya know, Mike, there’s some really good stuff in here.’"
Pointing to the current legal controversy over Trump’s storing of classified documents post-presidency at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida that he was not legally allowed to retain, Pence said "I read that some of those classified documents they found at Mar-a-Lago were actually stuck in the president’s Bible… which proves he had absolutely no idea they were there."
On Thursday, in his speech in New Hampshire at the Cheshire County GOP’s annual Lincoln-Reagan fundraising dinner, Pence appeared to take aim again at Trump, this time over policy and politics.
"I think as Republicans we have to resist the temptation of doing what’s popular over what’s wise. We have to resist the politics of personality, the lure of populism," Pence said. "We have to get back to the timeless conservative principles that made New Hampshire and America strong."
Fox News' Aubrie Spady contributed to this report
Paul Steinhauser is a politics reporter based in New Hampshire.