History was made in the United States senate on April 19, 2019.
Senator Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois, brought her 10-day-old baby to the senate floor to cast votes. Duckworth had already become the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office when she delivered daughter Maile Pearl Bowlesby. The senate rules had to be changed to permit Duckworth to bring her baby into Congress, leading to a surprising amount of outcry. Complaints about the baby being there are, obviously, ridiculous.
Before Duckworth’s baby, children were barred from the senate floor.
As a sitting senator in a very close senate, Duckworth cannot shirk the duties of her job, and obviously as a new mom she would want – and have – to bring her newborn baby with her. Duckworth commented on the significance of Maile to NPR, saying that, “I don’t know why it’s taken this long – well, because we don’t have enough women in leadership and women in the Senate. I mean, the men have been having babies while they were senators for decades now.”
Some of this gap may be attributed to the so-called ‘age limit’ on motherhood, as senators have to be at least 35. However, part of the reason has to be the gender gap in the senate. NPR reports that only 22 percent of senators are female. So, ostensibly, the reason that there has never been a change to senate rules to allow newborn babies on the senate floor is that, before now, the issue has never come up.
Some of the commotion before the rules change came in the form of a debate over disability rights. Duckworth is a double-amputee due to her service in the Iraq War, yet according to WBUR, “Some senators had suggested that Duckworth simply vote from the Senate cloakroom, but that room isn’t wheelchair-accessible.” This is also ridiculous on another level – parenthood shouldn’t be something that’s shameful and hidden away. Obviously Duckworth would not be able to participate fully at her job if she is removed from the main location it takes place in.
The Associated Press reported that rather than occurring along party lines, concerns in the senate about newborns on the floor were more generational. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT.) asked “But what if there are 10 babies on the floor of the senate?”
Hatch accepted the answer from Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) that this circumstance “would be a delight.”
Online, the criticism of the change included suggestions that newborn babies violate decorum. Life, however, does not always wait on decorum – and this rule paves the way for parents of any gender to be with their babies while continuing their jobs. Richard Armande Mills, a staff member for Turning Point USA, suggested on Twitter that Duckworth could “weaponize her baby.” This is a ridiculous allegation – newborn babies are the furthest thing from weapons – and led to Mills being mocked on Twitter. Potential decorum disruptions and ‘baby-weaponization’ are no excuse to avoid letting a parent participate in public life.
Like Klobuchar, I hope that more new parents in the senate take this opportunity to bring their newborns to the floor when they need to. It would be delightful, and it would serve a need that clearly exists – and the younger members of the senate, regardless of party, welcomed the rules change.
Although her job is very high-stakes, Duckworth is not the only person in the U.S. to have to find a balance between parenting and work. When the New York Times first announced the birth of Maile, Duckworth was quoted as saying, “As tough as juggling the demands of motherhood and being a Senator can be, I’m hardly alone or unique as a working parent, and my children only make me more committed to doing my job and standing up for hardworking families everywhere.”
More workplaces should be prepared to accept the presence of children in as many cases as are possible. The step the U.S. Senate took is a great one.