"I was very excited, during the president's speech, when he talked about paid family leave, and we saw that standing ovation," said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (R-N.D.), who is facing a 2018 reelection bid in a deep red state.
"What that tells you is that there is an opportunity. This is a president — certainly, this is a president's daughter, who gets this as a young mother," Heitkamp said, referring to the president's eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, who has three children.
The FAMILY Act, introduced in every Congress by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), was largely incorporated into Hillary Clinton's unsuccessful 2016 presidential bid. Two months before Election Day, and to the great frustration of Democrats, Trump proposed his own family leave plan, suggesting six weeks of leave to Gillibrand's 12, and Ivanka Trump promoted it in straight-to-camera TV ads.
Trump falsely claimed that Clinton "had no child-care plan," and Clinton's campaign largely did not answer Trump's attack on the air. On Election Day, Trump did better with suburban white female voters than the Democrats expected.
In January, Ivanka Trump began lobbying for any version of Republican tax reform to include the child-care plan. But the languid pace of Trump's agenda — apart from deregulation bills passed through the Congressional Review Act, nothing much has moved through Congress — has prompted Democrats to preempt Trump bills with their own.
First, they introduced an infrastructure spending package, to emphasize the expected faults in Trump's (which has not yet emerged). Then it was time to bring back the FAMILY Act. The goal wasn't simply to pass it — unlikely, as long as Republicans control Congress. The goal was to contrast the indefinite funding plan favored by Trump with the small tax favored by Democrats.
Asked about Trump's idea of funding the family leave by cracking down on fraud, Gillibrand laughed and shook her head.
"The 'find money' plan rarely works," she said. "I'd go with an earned benefit that we all buy into. People understand this; most states have workman's comp, most states have unemployment insurance. All of us know, if we can invest in insurance that is there when we need it, all of us benefit."