Sen. Tammy Duckworth has a problem: How can a senator who needs to vote take time off to care for her newborn?
“I can’t technically take maternity leave,” Duckworth said in the latest episode of the Women Rule podcast. “Because if I take maternity leave, then I won’t be allowed to sponsor legislation or vote during that time period.”
The Illinois Democrat and Iraq War veteran, who is expecting her second child this spring, will be the first sitting senator to give birth in office. She plans to take 12 weeks of paid leave – but she’s working with her party’s leadership and her staff to figure out how she can still take important votes while she’s out.
“It’s going to change some Senate rules,” Duckworth said.
The Senate often has members with medical issues who must spend significant time away from Washington. But a mother with a newborn presents new questions that Senate leaders are confronting for the first time.
For instance: “You are not allowed to bring children onto the floor of the Senate at all,” Duckworth pointed out. “If I have to vote, and I’m breastfeeding my child, especially during my maternity leave period, what do I do? Leave her sitting outside?”
For Senate Democrats, the absence of Duckworth -- a former Black Hawk pilot who has raised her national profile in recent months by firing off blistering criticisms of President Donald Trump -- could be a significant hurdle given the current 51 to 49 split in the Senate with Democrats in the minority. She has also become a key voice for her party as it gears up for a tough midterm election cycle.
In her interview with POLITICO, the Illinois senator acknowledged that Democrats face
difficult prospects in the upcoming elections.
“I don’t know,” Duckworth said, when asked if she thought her party could retake the Senate majority in November. “I think that we need to just get out there and do the hard work of connecting with the American people, and a little less talk, a lot more action.”
The party, she argued, could take some lessons from her local politics.
“What the Midwest can teach the Democratic Party is: we have to care about everyone. We can’t just care about minorities, or immigrants, or identity politics,” Duckworth said, cautioning that “if we just focus on the left wing side of the party, or the more conservative side of the party, it doesn’t get us anywhere.”
Despite her professed middle-ground philosophy, Duckworth hasn’t shied away from attacking the top Republican in the White House. She’s even tried beating Trump at his own nickname game, dubbing the president “Cadet Bone Spurs” – a reference to his Vietnam War draft deferment.
Duckworth, who lost both her legs and the partial use of her right arm when serving in the Iraq War in 2004, explained the origins of that moniker: “I just think it’s descriptive. I think bullies need to have a taste of their own medicine, and he is a bully. And you stand up to bullies.”
“He was a cadet in a prep school,” she said. “And the bone spurs thing, I just think it’s ironic that you have an injury that is so severe it keeps you out of serving your country, but you don’t remember which foot it was in, or whether it was in both feet.”
Asked who she would like to see replace Trump in 2020, Duckworth pointed to a fellow Midwesterner in the Senate.
“I’m going to have to say Amy Klobuchar,” she said. “I would love to see more Midwestern Dems run. I think Sherrod Brown would be fantastic. Amy would be fantastic.”