Veteran and government official Pete Buttigieg first made headlines as the first openly gay Democrat to run for president in 2020 (Republican Fred Karger ran in 2012) — and then he became one of the most public faces of queer parenthood in the country when he and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, welcomed twins Penelope and Joseph last August.
As the best-known gay dad on Capitol Hill, the Secretary of Transportation often lends unique insights into parenting, and it was no different this week when, in an interview on Face the Nation on Sunday, Buttigieg shared how the formula shortage is affecting his own household.
“This is very personal for us. We’ve got two 9-month-old children. Baby formula is a very big part of our lives, and like millions of Americans we’ve been rooting around stores, checking online, getting in touch with relatives in other places where they don’t have the same shortages to see what they can send over.”
It’s not only refreshing to see politicians opening up about how their own lives are affected by the shortages — it’s also important for the public to understand the range of families who rely on formula for their infants: queer families, families with allergies, and honestly just families who made a personal choice for themselves regarding what they feed their babies.
While the Buttigieg family has managed to find the formula they need — “We’re all set, at least for now,” he told Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation — he added that his own experience comes from a place of privilege.
“If you’re a shift worker with two jobs, maybe you don’t have a car, you literally don’t have the time or the money to be going from store to store,” he explained. “That’s why this is such a serious issue.”
When Brennan pressed the Secretary of Transportation as to why the Biden administration didn’t take action earlier to prevent a crisis that was building for months, Buttigieg responded by saying that the administration had taken action “from day one,” by “taking steps like creating more flexibility for the WIC program to help rebalance the availability of formula.”
Ultimately, however, Buttigieg places blame for the shortage on Abbott, who, he noted, controls 40% of the market share.
“Fundamentally, we are here because a company was not able to guarantee that its plant was safe,” he said. While the government is trying to increase production elsewhere, getting Abbott’s Sturgis, Michigan plant back up and running is the solution. “At the end of the day, this plant needs to come back online safely,” said Buttigieg.
While the government, via WIC, is the biggest purchaser of infant formula, the Transportation Secretary sees the fact that “we’ve got four companies making about 90% of the formula in this country,” as the larger issue that needs to be tackled.
In reference to criticism last week about the government providing formula to immigrants held in detention, Chasten Buttigieg tweeted, “Babies don't benefit from mean-spirited attacks arguing over how babies should be fed or even which babies deserve to be fed. We can and should help one another as much as we can. Babies do not survive on tweets.”
In the midst of a crisis that has some people pitting formula feeding moms against breastfeeding moms, the Buttigieg’s experience is a nice reminder than men — both gay and straight — care for babies, too. And that all families are different and have different needs.