Senator Tammy Duckworth made history on Thursday, bringing her newborn daughter Maile onto the Senate floor to cast a vote.
Duckworth began the day by tweeting out her daughter’s potential outfit, in case they had to make a trip into the office.
Ultimately mother and daughter did indeed attend the vote; CNN explained that “Senate lawmakers narrowly voted, 50 to 49, to confirm GOP Rep. James Bridenstine to be the next NASA administrator,” with Duckworth a nay. “It meant so much to be able to cast the vote as a mom and be able to do my job and take care of my baby at the same time,” she told reporters, as reported by NBC News.
It also means a lot to many working mothers to watch her do it. For the sake of comparison, when my own child was a week and a half old, I was spending a lot of my time crying and fantasizing about eight hours of uninterrupted sleep like it was the Power Ball jackpot. New motherhood is hard on your body—and my labor had been a fairly easy one. And returning to work afterward, it can feel risky to be too openly preoccupied with this massive event in your life. Seeing Duckworth on the Senate floor with her newborn got me even harder than I expected.
The Senate requires that votes be cast in person, and it’s very, very difficult to hand off a nursing newborn. So Duckworth proposed a change to the chamber’s rules banning kids from the floor. While the measure passed quickly, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, told the Associated Press that it “did not go entirely smoothly for the two months she privately took questions about the idea and its potential consequences — diaper changes, fussing and notably, nursing.”
Kansas Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican, suggested that while he wasn’t opposed to the change, Duckworth could vote from the door of the cloakroom. Except that the cloakroom, as the Washington Post noted, “has long posed accessibility challenges. Duckworth, a former pilot who lost her legs during combat in the Iraq War, uses a wheelchair.”
Klobuchar told the Post:
“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.”
And it’s hard not to suspect that America’s lack of tangible support for parents might in part have something to do with a government full of grandfathers and great-grandfathers from an era where men did less hands-on caregiving. While 84-year-old Orrin Hatch said he had “no problem” with the change, he asked, “But what if there are 10 babies on the floor of the Senate?”
Probably something just awful, like strong support for federally subsidized parental leave and daycare programs.