Senate votes to allow Duckworth’s baby on the floor

- April 18, 2018

It’s official: Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s baby will be allowed on the Senate floor.

The Senate on Wednesday night unanimously approved a change to its rules to permit the children of senators onto the floor until they are one year old.

Duckworth, the Illinois Democrat who this month became the first senator in U.S. history to give birth in office, pushed for the rule change during her pregnancy. She gathered support among other lawmakers who wanted to send a symbolic message that the Senate, like all workplaces, should make small accommodations for working parents.

The proposal originally generated some fussiness in the typically staid U.S. Senate, which is bound by tradition and seldom changes its rules.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee, said some fellow lawmakers questioned why Duckworth couldn’t vote from the Senate cloakroom while holding her baby, but the cloakroom is not wheelchair accessible — an issue for someone like Duckworth who lost both her legs serving in the Iraq War.

Some senators also asked whether a staffer could hold the baby while Duckworth votes, but conflict of interest rules prevent her from having federal employees babysit her child. There was also concern that the Senate would devolve into the more-rowdy House, where children are allowed; in response, the rule was limited to allowing only children under the age of one.


And the issue of breastfeeding has come up: Will Duckworth feed her baby in the chamber under the watchful eye of C-SPAN? Klobuchar said Duckworth doesn’t intend to.

Klobuchar said the rule is largely designed to aid lawmakers when last-minute votes are called and child care can’t be found.

“We vote late into the night; we vote at unpredictable times," she said. "It doesn’t work with a newborn."

Duckworth, in a statement, said the rule changes helps “bring the Senate into the 21st Century by recognizing that sometimes new parents also have responsibilities at work.”

“By ensuring that no Senator will be prevented from performing their constitutional responsibilities simply because they have a young child, the Senate is leading by example and sending the important message that working parents everywhere deserve family-friendly workplace policies,” she said.

A baby may even add some levity to the politically-charged chamber.

“I think it will do us good in the United States Senate, every once in a while, to see a pacifier next to the antique inkwells on our desk or a diaper bag next to one of these brass spittoons which sits on the floor, thank goodness, never used,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).


The hidebound Senate rarely changes it rules. The last time the Senate allowed new entrants to the floor was in 1977, when service dogs were granted admission. In 1975, the parliamentarians were allowed admittance. The rule change was proposed Wednesday night by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and approved by unanimous consent.

It’s unclear how soon Duckworth may take advantage of the new rules. She told POLITICO before Maile Pearl Bowslbey was born that she planned to take an unofficial maternity leave but would return to the Senate when her vote was needed.

The Senate could vote next week on secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo. Veterans Affairs secretary nominee Ronny Jackson could get a vote in the coming weeks, too.

As of now, the new rule marks only a baby step. Duckworth is the only senator with a child under one year old who might be able to bring her child on the floor. But Klobuchar and other advocates say they hope there will soon be other senators who may have to make use of the accommodation.

“We consider her the trailblazer,” Klobuchar said of Duckworth, citing the current record of 23 sitting female senators. “We anticipate there will be more.”


 

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