Over the past week, Donald Trump has staked out positions on women’s issues that tack far to the left of his party and his running mate, a marked shift from Republican orthodoxy and the presidential nominee’s past comments about mothers in the workplace.
Trump, who has made inflammatory statements about women in the past and is lagging far behind in polls of female voters, released a plan to guarantee new mothers six weeks of paid leave and offer tax credits for child care. Trump also said that women should be able to access birth control over the counter, a direct contradiction of the platform his party adopted at its July convention.
Politically, the proposals are a departure for the nominee of a party that has only recently started talking more about child care and family-leave policies.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of discussion among conservatives on these two issues, especially compared on the left,” said Angela Rachidi, a research fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton introduced a child-care plan in May, proposing to cap child-care expenses at 10 percent of income. Her campaign has said the program will be funded by a mix of federal subsidies and tax credits, although it has not provided all the details. Clinton also seeks to establish universal preschool for the nation’s 4-year-olds and to guarantee up to 12 weeks of paid leave for new parents or for people caring for ill relatives. Those on leave would get up to two-thirds of their salary, although a ceiling on the amount would apply.
Both Trump and Clinton are garnering praise for taking on the high cost of child care and parental-leave policies that lag far behind the rest of the world.
But Trump’s plan is viewed skeptically by people on both sides of the aisle who see it as a slapdash attempt to woo female voters — particularly those in suburban swing districts grappling with the high cost of child care or whether it makes financial sense to return to work after having a baby.
“He’s a salesman, what can he sell?” Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist, said of Trump. “I think he’s looking at these voters and making a pretty direct appeal to them on policy with that same instinct of selling.”
A Washington Post-ABC News poll this month found Clinton leading by 15 points among female likely voters over Trump. Polls in the swing states of Iowa, Ohio and Nevada put Clinton with at least a 10-point lead over Trump with women who are likely to vote.
Madden said Trump is “unapologetic about it for those who are criticizing some of the policy details and the fact that it’s such a departure from the party orthodoxy.”
Some conservatives are concerned with what Trump has put forward, particularly about how it will be structured and paid for.
Trump’s child-care plan would allow families making less than $250,000 a year to deduct up to the average cost of child care in the state where they live — a sum that works out to about $22,000 annually in the District, compared with about $5,500 in Alabama. Trump’s campaign said this allows for a recognition that child-care costs vary nationwide. The campaign said it would be paid for by higher revenue from economic growth, although it did not specify what that meant.
Low-income families would be offered rebates through the earned income tax credit. While conservative economists said the program has been successful and effective, they have concerns with it: The Internal Revenue Service estimated that 23.8 percent of payments were issued improperly in fiscal 2015.
Trump’s campaign said there would be no change to the existing tax credit program and that the child-care rebate would be a separate calculation. It said a Trump administration would monitor claims to reduce the rate of erroneous payments and exercise more robust jurisdiction over the system.
Parents who stay at home with their children would also be able to take the same deductions as working parents. Trump’s maternity-leave plan is just that — it allows women who give birth to take six weeks of paid leave, funded through unemployment insurance. Trump’s campaign said it is a “safety net” designed for women who would otherwise be forced back to work quickly and could be paid for by eliminating improper payments doled out by the unemployment insurance program.
The maternity-leave policy does not address fathers, adoptive parents or same-sex couples, or those taking time for a family emergency.
“It’s for some 1950s America that most of us don’t live in any more,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action.
Trump initially announced his intentions for a child-care plan last month. At that time, Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore told NPR that middle-class mothers with incomes of $60,000 to $90,000 per year would benefit the most from Trump’s plan.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist at the conservative American Action Forum, said Trump’s plan could incentivize employers not to offer paid leave — something Trump’s campaign said should not happen because it is a limited benefit.
“Politically it looks like a bidding war. Hillary has a child-care policy, I’m going to have one, I’m going to appeal to women somehow,” he said. “He identifies a constituency and tailors policies to appeal to them, and it drives Republicans crazy because that’s not how they want to think about things.”
Trump said that his child-care proposals were driven almost entirely by his daughter Ivanka, a working mother of three. They are a departure for both Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence. In a 2004 interview, Trump said that while pregnancy is a “wonderful thing” for a woman and her husband, “the fact is it is an inconvenience for a person that is running a business.”
Pence, in a 1997 letter to the editor of the Indianapolis Star, said that children who go to day care “get the short end of the emotional stick” and that the tax code should be more favorable to families where one parent stays home with children.
Vivien Labaton, co-director of Make it Work Action, which advocates for family-friendly workplace policies, said both Trump and Clinton need to offer more specifics about their policies. She believes Trump’s plan is “designed for the Ivanka Trumps of the world” rather than working and low-income families.
Labaton said Trump’s timing and lack of specificity “lead me to conclude that his motives are nothing more than wooing voters, women voters, in the run-up to Election Day rather than a genuine commitment to improving the lives of working women and families.” She added that “there are still important details to learn about Clinton’s plan, too.”
Trump also veered far from his party when he said on “The Dr. Oz Show” on Thursday that birth control should be available over the counter.
“You can’t make birth control available over the counter by presidential decree,” said Alina Salganicoff, director of women’s health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “It has to go through an FDA process.”
In California, pharmacists are allowed to dispense certain methods of birth control to a patient without a prescription. In Oregon, specially trained pharmacists are allowed to administer and fill a prescription for birth control — including pills, patches and rings — after a woman fills out a 20-question self-assessment. The Food and Drug Administration approved over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill for 15-year-olds and older in 2013 after a lengthy and politically fraught process.
The Affordable Care Act and Medicaid cover birth control for women. Were it to no longer be available by prescription, women’s health advocates said that could make it more difficult and expensive for low-income women to access hormonal contraception.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.