CLAIM: Nobody who is criticizing Secretary Pete Buttigieg did so when Elaine Chao was transportation secretary.
VERDICT: MOSTLY FALSE. Many conservatives scrutinized Chao and some indeed called for her to be fired.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre attempted to defend Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on Thursday by claiming that he was the victim of “a lot of bad faith attacks.”
Buttigieg, a former mayor and Navy reservist with a Harvard and McKinsey pedigree, was once presented as the epitome of competence. But faced with a cargo crisis, rail labor disputes, and derailments, he has often been absent.
The latest criticism is that Buttigieg failed to visit East Palestine, Ohio, the site of a major derailment and toxic chemical release, until nearly three weeks had passed — and former President Donald Trump had visited first.
Jean-Pierre tried to defend the administration’s response — including President Joe Biden’s own failure to visit — and Buttigieg in particular. In particular, she claimed that Elaine Chao, who was the transportation secretary under Trump, never faced similar criticism: “When there was [sic] these types of chemical spills, nobody was calling for her to be fired. And nobody was calling for what they’re calling on mayor — Secretary Pete.”
In fact, Chao was the target of strident criticism from conservatives — not for derailments, which are common, but for conflicts of interest involving her family’s business ties in China. As Breitbart News contributor Peter Schweizer revealed in his bestselling book Secret Empires in 2018, Chao’s family’s investments often triggered ethical questions — questions from which the Trump administration often shielded her, perhaps in deference to her husband, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). (Chao repaid the favor by resigning from after the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021; she has been the target of vicious, often racial attacks from Trump since.)
Some conservatives, including Ann Coulter, called for Chao to be fired — even citing a Breitbart News article:
Trump needs to fire Mitch’s wife. https://t.co/2rl6cIeCCb
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) July 30, 2018
While it is true that Chao was under pressure for different reasons — ethics, as opposed to competence — it is simply false to say that Buttigieg is being singled out unfairly. He is being judged on his poor job performance.
Had Chao been incompetent as well as ethically challenged, it seems likely Trump would have fired her, given his habit of firing officials for perceived failures, creating a high rate of turnover that was criticized at the time.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.