A New Kind of Political Spouse Arrives in Washington

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Although the transportation secretary makes $221,400, according to government salary data released in January, the Buttigiegs’ life as a cabinet family contrasts with some of their most notable predecessors who lived in suites in the high-end Jefferson Hotel, like Robert E. Rubin, the Clinton-era Treasury secretary, or in multimillion-dollar homes in the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, like several members of Mr. Trump’s cabinet and inner circle. Nor is Mr. Buttigieg familiar with Washington’s customs and unspoken rules. It is unclear what kind of pointers and tips he will get from his direct predecessor in the transportation spouse department, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority leader and husband of Elaine Chao.

“It feels like this is maybe a place where innocence goes to die,” Mr. Buttigieg said of the parts of Washington he is now privy to.

In a much-photographed interaction, he recently got coffee with Mr. Emhoff to talk about finding new projects and adjusting to life in the capital, where the Buttigiegs moved from South Bend, Ind.

“Sometimes you just need to get out of the house,” he said, “and check in with somebody.”

Some days, while his husband is at work or fielding Zoom calls from the bedroom, Mr. Buttigieg, who is adapting his memoir, “I Have Something to Tell You,” for younger readers, takes the dogs out. Buddy and Truman have expansive social media profiles, and Mr. Buttigieg is often mistaken as the dog walker by fans.

(“‘What’s it like to walk Pete’s dogs?’” he said he is asked. “It’s a living,” is his response.)

Balancing his life as a political spouse with his own identity has been trickier than he’d imagined.

“Pete is getting up in the morning, going to work and doing the thing that makes him really happy,” Mr. Buttigieg said. “That thing for me was getting up and going to school every day. Now I have to figure out if that is something I can return to.”

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