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AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Whenever there's been a travel crisis under Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg's watch, it seems as if he's not been very well equipped to handle the situation. Oftentimes, he's been nowhere to be found. He was on paternity leave when the supply chain crisis was particularly bad in 2021. More recently, he was also in Portugal when the railway strike seemed imminent, as was later revealed. There's also the lack of confidence when it comes to his ability to handle the Southwest debacle with canceled flights as well as his ability, or lack thereof, to handle last week's FAA system outage. And, it's been revealed that Buttigieg has engaged in private jet excursions, despite his supposed commitment to fighting climate change. 

Such are very real concerns, crises even. They're not manufactured as a plot from his critics. When it comes to those critics, though, it's worth reminding as many times as is necessary that even former state Rep. Nina Turner (D-OH), who launched several unsuccessful bids for higher offices, called him out. According to some of the secretary's strongest defenders, though, these are all issues that Republicans are pouncing on. 

On Saturday morning, POLITICO published Adam Wren and Oriana Pawlyk's piece on how "Democrats slough off attacks on Buttigieg," with their sub headline noting that "Republicans are eager to press their attack."

In pointing to how "lately he’s been seeing the downsides of running a sprawling department as a rising Democratic Party star," with regards to Buttigieg, Wren and Pawlyk make reference to the FAA outage as well as Southwest:

And this time, the criticism could prove more challenging — unlike past GOP attacks on Buttigieg for his use of paternity leave, DOT’s allegedly “woke” climate policies, last year’s threatened rail strike and the tortured state of the post-pandemic U.S. supply chain.

Buttigieg immediately ordered an investigation of Wednesday’s travel meltdown and told MSNBC “we’re gonna own it.”

Republicans were trying to ensure that that promise stuck. “Pete Buttigieg couldn’t organize a one-car funeral,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) tweeted amid Wednesday’s chaos.

The horror of a cabinet official having to take responsibility, and that he would be held accountable!

The piece goes on to include, as promised in the headline, how Democrats have lept to Buttigieg's defense. Such defenses are repetitive, foul mouthed, come off as insincere, or a mix of all of that.

Biden pollster John Anzalone, for instance, is quoted as having defended Buttigieg as a “f***ing hero” to airline passengers. 

Also mentioned in the piece is a tweet from White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, who can always be counted on to induce some eyeroll reactions. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) is also quoted as having described Buttigieg as "the kind of strong and dedicated leadership that’s necessary to hold those airlines accountable." The White House also submitted a statement on behalf of a spokesperson pointing out that "there have been many challenges presented by the pandemic, and by various external forces, and Secretary Buttigieg has shown tremendous leadership in addressing each and every one."

If only POLITICO had asked for follow up, given that Buttigieg wasn't even around for many of these "challenges," which of course, have been conveniently blamed on the pandemic. 

Perhaps the most bizarre and lengthy defense comes from someone described as a "national Democratic strategist, speaking on condition of anonymity to assess the situation frankly," who for whatever odd reason felt the need to request and be granted anonymity:

Democratic strategists say attacks against him — from the left, that he is too lenient on corporations such as airlines, and the right, that he is incompetent and ill-prepared for the role — aren’t making much impact.

“Both the left and right are trying these kinds of hits, but none of them are sticking because they aren’t grounded in the reality of how voters think,” said a national Democratic strategist, speaking on condition of anonymity to assess the situation frankly. “No one believes the secretary of Transportation is responsible for weather delays or is somehow empowered to act as the COO of the nation’s airlines.“

“Voters see Buttigieg as highly competent, active, and hardworking,” the strategist added. “These lines of attack don’t track what voters know to be true, and that’s why they won’t get traction outside right or left-wing echo chambers.”

It's not until a bit into the article that criticism from members of Buttigieg's own party are brought up, including from Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), though it's only as an aside. There's no mention of the criticism from Turner, or of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who has also criticized Buttigieg's handling of incidents in the past. 

Our friends at Twitchy highlighted some reactions to the article, as Twitter users dare to wonder where the sense of responsibility is as well as what it is exactly that Buttigieg has actually been successful at. POLITICO tweeting out Wren and Pawlyk's piece looks to have certainly gotten more engagement than other tweets, with close to 350 replies and 66 of the 89 retweets being quoted retweets. 

POLITICO wasn't the only outlet to protect the secretary in such a way. Included above is a tweet of Klain responding to an article by Alexi McCammond and Josh Kraushaar wrote for Axios on January 11 on how "Historic transportation crises haunt Buttigieg," which the outlet tweeted out. 

What makes Klain's reaction even more absurd is what's included in the article is what we're used to from the mainstream media:

Why it matters: A modest Cabinet role has become a political albatross for one of the Democratic Party's brightest young stars. Republicans have sought to make Buttigieg the face of the transport disruptions, while Democrats say his crisis leadership is proving his political mettle.


Between the lines: Buttigieg has in several cases been the victim of circumstances that predated his time in office — such as the ancient computers and infrastructure that appeared to contribute to the FAA disaster.

  • That hasn't stopped Republicans from relentlessly attacking Buttigieg each time a crisis has arisen, accusing the former small-town mayor of being incompetent and ill-qualified.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a top Republican on the committee that oversees DOT, called the FAA outage "completely unacceptable and just the latest example of dysfunction" at Buttigieg's agency.

Others who criticize Republicans for their responses are also included:

The other side: "You can’t go a day at DOT without some kind of a crisis. You have to provide the leadership, which I think Secretary Buttigieg has," former Obama Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Axios.

  • Jill Zuckman, a partner at SKDK and former head of public affairs under LaHood, says Republicans are hammering Buttigieg because they see him as a potential presidential candidate. "That’s not how past Transportation secretaries were treated," Zuckman told Axios.

It's particularly ridiculous to blame the attacks on Buttigieg potentially running in 2024, as if the actual crises that Buttigieg are mishandling don't deserve full attention. 

Further, what are accurately described in the headline and the piece as "crises" are presented even handily, other than Buttigieg being described as a victim that is. But that is something that Klain and presumably the rest of the Biden White House appear to not be used to and can't handle. 

Not only did Axios tweet out the article, but so did McCammond, going with the Republicans pounce narrative that was heavily denounced on Twitter.

McCammond's tweet certainly was noticed, with over 2,000 replies calling her out. Of the 475 retweets, 424 are quoted tweets.

The tweet made its way to The List as well.

Subsequent tweets of McCammond about the article, including one quoting former Rep. Ray LaHood (R-IL), who also held Buttigieg's position as the Transportation Secretary from 2009-2013 under the Obama administration, received far less attention. 

The defense didn't merely occur in the form of articles. Those daring to criticize the secretary were maligned. Chasten Buttigieg, the secretary's husband, certainly picked a particular response when it comes to a Fox News article. 


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