Buttigieg under fire from both parties amid Southwest holiday travel fiasco

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is facing demands and pressure from influential leaders across the political spectrum as tens of thousands of Americans remain stranded at airports across the nation.

Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,500 flights Wednesday, 62% of its scheduled flights, and plans to cancel an estimated two-thirds of flights in the following days. Democrat and GOP elected officials and political activists demanded the Department of Transportation hold the company accountable so that customers receive full refunds and accommodations. 

‘Southwest’s flight delays & cancellations are beyond unacceptable,’ Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., tweeted Wednesday. ‘This is a company that got a $7 billion taxpayer bailout & will be handing out $428 million in dividends to their wealthy shareholders. The Department of Transportation ‘must hold Southwest’s CEO accountable for his greed and incompetence.’

Buttigieg in September said on ‘The Late Late Show With James Corden’ that airline travel ‘is going to get better by the holidays.’ Nina Turner, the national co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, blamed the problem on Buttigieg’s outsized ambitions for higher office.

‘What’s happening with the railroads, airlines & the supply chain is a result of a small city mayor being made the Secretary of Transportation as a means to pad his resume for President,’ she tweeted Tuesday. ‘Secretary Buttigieg is a prime example of failing up.’

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, released a statement Tuesday that declared federal rules must be updated to prevent similar disasters in the future. 

‘The Committee will be looking into the causes of these disruptions and its impact to consumers,’ Cantwell said. ‘Many airlines fail to adequately communicate with consumers during flight cancellations. Consumers deserve strong protections, including an updated consumer refund rule.’

For more than a year, Republican leaders have complained Buttigieg does not take his job seriously amid a series of crises for Americans. Buttigieg was on vacation in Europe as railroad unions attempted to negotiate a deal in September to avoid a potentially disastrous strike. The secretary was on paternity leave with his husband and their two newborns for several months last year as the country faced supply chain shortages. 

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., said she nearly was unable to see her children on Christmas because of flight delays — and criticized the Department of Transportation for its slow response.

‘It took four days and thousands and thousands of cancelations for DOT to finally speak up; same thing, it took four days for the CEO of Southwest to finally speak up,’ Mace said Wednesday on Fox and Friends Morning. ‘I hope at some point the government, when we are intervening and looking at some of these issues, that we are more efficient and more effective.’

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Az., noted a Fox News Digital Report that Buttigieg has taken at least 18 flights using taxpayer-funded private jets since taking office. 

‘If @USDOT is serious about addressing Southwest’s recent implosion, it should prohibit its leader @SecretaryPete from flying private,’ Biggs tweeted Wednesday. ‘Why wasn’t he aware of these challenges beforehand? Late to the game and out of touch.’

Buttigieg had a quick exchange over Twitter with the House Judiciary GOP, which tweeted Tuesday, ‘Where’s @SecretaryPete? #SouthwestAirlines.’

‘Good morning! At the moment I’m on Capitol Hill, not far from your offices,’ the secretary tweeted in response. ‘We’ll keep getting results for passengers using our authorities & resources as an agency. If you’re calling for policies that would deepen those resources, please be specific – I’d welcome the dialogue.’

Buttigieg was warned by members of his own party about concerns within the airline industry before Southwest’s mass cancelations. Cantwell, along with Sen. Ed Markey D-Mass. and Sen. Richard Blumenthal D-Conn., filed a comment in November to the Department of Transportation on the need to hurry its process to finalize a rule to ensure consumers are properly refunded for cancelations and get accommodations.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Ma., and Alex Padilla, D-Calif., sent a joint letter to Buttigieg in July similarly calling for rules to protect consumers from cancelations. New York Attorney General Letitia James, D, also sent Buttigieg a letter on the issue in August.

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