Being the parent of an infant while also serving as a U.S. senator is about to get a tiny bit easier.
When Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) announced that she was going to become the first sitting senator to give birth, her pregnancy highlighted the complexities Senate rules posed for new parents. If she took a formal maternity leave, Duckworth wouldn’t be allowed to introduce legislation or have her say on bills. And because children are banned from the Senate floor, Duckworth could be forced into difficult choices about caring for her daughter — who was born April 9 — and being present for unpredictable votes.
Duckworth’s colleagues are about to fix that second problem, at least. The Senate is poised to vote on a resolution that would allow children under the age of 1 onto the floor of the Senate, after Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) discharged a resolution Duckworth wrote on the subject from the Senate Rules Committee. The resolution is expected to find bipartisan support.
Klobuchar told me even this small, common-sense change faced questions.
“I think at first, there was some cynicism, and people were like, ‘Why can’t she vote from the cloakroom holding the baby?'” Klobuchar told me. Besides the idea that a parent should have to keep their baby out of sight to cast a vote, Klobuchar points out that the Senate cloakroom has long posed accessibility challenges. Duckworth, a former pilot who lost her legs during combat in the Iraq War, uses a wheelchair.
Another proposal was to allow Senate staff to hold a senator’s baby while the senator cast a vote on the floor. But Klobuchar pointed out that Senate staffers, who have a lot of other tasks on their plates, aren’t supposed to be used as babysitters, even on a temporary basis.
And then there was the issue of the Senate dress code. Babies will not, Klobuchar clarified, have to wear pants and dress shoes on the Senate floor.
The Duckworth resolution will solve an immediate problem, and not just for women in the Senate. Klobuchar said that younger men in both parties responded enthusiastically to the proposed change. After all, she pointed out, men, even senators, sometimes end up doing childcare on their own. And while taking primary responsibility for child-rearing might have been unimaginable to an earlier generation of male lawmakers, Klobuchar said, now “you could have a parent who wants to be with the baby.”
And Klobuchar agreed immediately when I asked her if Duckworth’s pregnancy raised larger questions about the Senate’s working culture.
“We wonder, why do we only have 23 women [in the Senate]. Maybe some of it’s because it’s a really hard place to get to because of the fundraising and everything else, and the credibility you have to have with voters,” which they sometimes have extended to women only grudgingly, Klobuchar said. “You think about that and then you think about the workplace and the message it sends that we have these sudden votes at 2 a.m. all the time, which is different from the House.” She recalled one occasion when she’d arrived home in Minnesota at 1 a.m., only to head back to the airport two hours later to return to Washington because of the actions of a single colleague. Putting it mildly, she said, “These are not exactly baby-friendly policies.”
The children affected aren’t only infants. Klobuchar said that she and other senators have talked about ways to help senators be more present for their older children, including at mealtimes. Making late-night votes more predictable, she suggested, would at least allow senators to plan family time around their considerable professional obligations.
In the meantime, the Duckworth resolution is a start, and not merely for practicality. Klobuchar joked that with the way things are going in the Senate, “having the baby on the floor can only make things better.”