Who doesn’t like babies? Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) gave birth  April 9, 2018, to her second child, a girl named Maile Pearl, becoming the first woman in the U.S. Senate to give birth while in office. Duckworth proposed that the Senate rules be changed to allow babies on the Senate floor, considered a breach of decorum. She wants to be on maternity leave and work at the same time.

Duckworth wants to vote during her maternity leave but the rules of the Senate require all votes be cast in person. There is no phoning it in, so telecommuting is out of the question. Her proposal has been in the works for several months now, according to Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). Klobuchar has been lobbying her male colleagues on the proposal. She assured them that there would not be diaper changes or breastfeeding in the chamber. Decorum will be maintained, they were assured.

The proposal was unanimously approved. Some on the left were looking to criticize older, conservative senators who initially asked questions about how this would work, Turns out that the older men on both sides of the aisle had questions and the hesitancy was generational, not partisan. One senator asked why she couldn’t just vote from the cloakroom if she had the baby with her.

“I’m not going to object to anything like that, not in this day and age,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., father of three and grandfather of six. He then noted that a person can stand in the door of the cloakroom, a lounge just off the chamber, and vote. “I’ve done it,” he said. Allowing babies on the Senate floor, he said, “I don’t think is necessary.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, father of two, said he has no problem with the rule change. But the Arkansas Republican acknowledged that some of his colleagues do, “so the cloakroom might be a good compromise.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch, the father of six, grandfather of 14 and great-grandfather of 23, said he had “no problem” with such a rules change. “But what if there are 10 babies on the floor of the Senate?” he asked.

The cloakroom compromise is problematic for Duckworth, though, because she is in a wheelchair. The Iraq war veteran lost both legs and partial use of an arm from injuries suffered during her service. The cloakroom isn’t wheelchair accessible.  When a suggestion was made that Duckworth be made an exception to the rule, she insisted on making the proposal a permanent change.

Hence, the vote on her proposal. Why was it so important that Duckworth be present to vote in the Senate? Maybe it was the vote Thursday on GOP Rep. James Bridenstine’s nomination to be the new NASA administrator. Yes. That was it. The vote was on straight party lines and it was 50-49. Duckworth voted with the other Democrats.

Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth made history on Thursday as she became the first senator to cast a vote on the Senate floor with her newborn by her side.

Senate lawmakers narrowly voted, 50 to 49, to confirm GOP Rep. James Bridenstine to be the next NASA administrator. Duckworth voted against Bridenstine.
And that no-breastfeeding on the Senate floor promise? Yeah, that wasn’t exactly true.
The vote comes one day after the Senate changed longstanding rules to allow newborns onto the Senate floor during votes for the first time. The rule change, voted through by unanimous consent, was done to accommodate senators with newborn babies, allowing them now to be able to bring a child under 1-year-old onto the Senate floor and breastfeed them during votes.
Pardon my cynicism but doesn’t all this look like a selfish gesture rather than the great boast to family-friendly workplaces that the new rule is being touted? The only person that benefits from this is Senator Duckworth. It can help others in the future, sure, but for now, it doesn’t. The proposal allows both women and men to bring their infants under the age of 1 year on the Senate floor. Why else would a new mother bring an infant with her except to breastfeed?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 75% of women working full time have a child under the age of eighteen. This gesture in the Senate is great for Senator Duckworth but let’s face it, it does nothing for other working moms. Few women have the luxury of bringing their newborn infants to work. Breastfeeding moms pump and refrigerate breast milk for the baby’s caregiver to use at feeding times. And, few women have the option of taking maternity leave but working when it suits their own agenda. Women lawmakers in the U.S. Senate cannot be confused with other working women and the struggle for more flexibility to tend to the demands of raising children.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) who aptly sums it all up.

“Why would I object to it? We have plenty of babies on the floor,” joked Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.