WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday shrugged off criticism he received and defended what the White House called a "homophobic" joke he told about Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg taking parental leave and about postpartum depression.
"The Gridiron Dinner is a roast and I had a lot of jokes directed to me. I directed a lot of jokes to Republicans and Democrats," Pence told reporters in Keene, New Hampshire, when asked about his previous remarks. "The only thing I could figure is Pete Buttigieg not only can't do his job, but he can't take a joke."
Pence, who was in Keene to speak to Cheshire County Republicans as he considers a 2024 presidential run, doubled down on comments he made at the annual Gridiron Club dinner last weekend. At the event, Pence said that Buttigieg’s two months of “maternity leave” to adopt newborn twins in 2021 with his husband led to transportation woes nationwide last year, The Washington Post reported.
"When Pete’s two children were born, he took two months’ maternity leave whereupon thousands of travelers were stranded in airports, the air traffic system shut down, and airplanes nearly collided on our runways," Pence said, according to the Post. "Pete is the only person in human history to have a child and everyone else gets postpartum depression."
Buttigieg has been a vocal critic of Pence’s cultural and religious conservatism since Buttigieg's bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Pence, former Indiana governor, overlapped in the state’s politics for four years.
Buttigieg's husband, Chasten Buttigieg, responded to Pence on ABC's "The View" on Thursday.
"I think it’s not ‘woke,’ you know, to say that something is homophobic or misogynistic," he said. "Doesn’t make you woke. It doesn’t make you a snowflake to tell someone they've made a mistake."
Chasten Buttigieg spoke about how he and his husband had to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit because their son was prematurely born.
"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," he said. "And I just don't take that when it's directed at my family, and I don't think anybody else would, especially when you bring a very small, medically fragile child into it."
Earlier this week, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre ripped Pence in a statement, saying, "The former vice president’s homophobic joke about Secretary Buttigieg was offensive and inappropriate, all the more so because he treated women suffering from postpartum depression as a punchline."
"He should apologize to women and LGBTQ people, who are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect," she added.
Chasten Buttigieg said on "The View" that he hadn’t heard anything from Pence since he made those remarks.
Rebecca Shabad is a politics reporter for NBC News based in Washington.