Senate rules require lawmakers to vote in person, which would be a challenge for Duckworth since Senate votes can take an unpredictable amount of time and extend into the wee hours of the morning. But now Duckworth doesn't have to worry about missing a crucial debate or a vote as she attends to her new daughter, Maile Pearl. The Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to let members brings children younger than 1 onto the chamber floor with them.
“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,” Duckworth said in a statement.
Rules Committee Chairman Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) — a father — was so supportive that he co-sponsored the bill.
“Being a parent is a difficult job, and the Senate rules shouldn't make it any harder,” he said in a statement. “I'm glad we were able to get this done to address the needs of parents in the Senate.”
Many male senators agreed — even on the Republican side of the aisle, which is sometimes criticized by the left for not prioritizing gender inequality issues. Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) — all fathers — also supported the change.
To supporters, the resolution is a reminder that improved work conditions for mothers don't have to be anti-male and can likely benefit men, as well.
But conservative activist Richard Mills expressed concerns about the policy change advocated by Duckworth during her pregnancy.
“I have issues with Duckworth potentially being able to weaponize that baby to affect legislative decision-making. And I could see her doing that,” tweeted Mills, a regional director of Turning Point USA, a right-wing nonprofit organization.
Duckworth has expressed a desire to make workplaces more family-friendly and hopes other organizations adjust their policies.
“As tough as juggling the demands of motherhood and being a Senator can be, I’m hardly alone or unique as a working parent,” Duckworth said in a statement upon the birth of Maile on April 9, “and my children only make me more committed to doing my job and standing up for hardworking families everywhere.”
Duckworth, 50, is no stranger to being a working parent. In 2014, she gave birth to her first child, Abigail, while serving in the House of Representatives.
The majority of Americans support family-friendly workplace policies like those for which Duckworth has advocated, including paid family leave. A Pew Research Center study last year found 8 in 10 Americans support maternity leave, while about 7 in 10 support paternity leave. The Senate does not have a parental leave policy for senators, and policies vary from office to office for staffers.
But American families are in search of more help than paid leave after a baby is born; the cost of child care is rising, forcing some families to choose which parent will stay home. A Brookings Institution study found that both parents work in 56 percent of married families with children younger than 6. The employment rate is 65 percent for single mothers, and 83 percent for single fathers who are the custodial parent. The study also noted that most Americans support federally subsidized child care.
In a 2015 Washington Post poll, 51 percent of parents said they've had to stop working or switched to a less challenging job to allow more time to care for their children. The same amount said employers should be more flexible with schedules so they can care for children.
But the Senate policy change also reveals a reality for many hoping to see more family-friendly workplaces: It requires those advocating for the policies to show that what is good for working mothers is beneficial for families as a whole. Blunt's Republicanism likely helped the resolution get the support it needed from his side of the aisle, but it also may have been because he persuaded other fathers.
As the country heads into midterm elections, we may hear more men on both sides of the aisle advocating for issues that make the workplace more accommodating for mothers. As Duckworth tweeted:
“Family-friendly workplace policies aren’t just a women’s issue, they are a common-sense economic issue.”