After calling attention to outdated Senate rules that made little to no accommodations for lawmakers who are parents, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) made history on Thursday when she became the first senator to bring a baby onto the Senate floor.
The senator brought her newborn daughter, Maile, who was born last week, into the Senate gallery for a vote on President Donald Trump's nominee to lead NASA. She was able to do so after a resolution was passed on Wednesday to allow children under the age of one onto the floor during votes.
"I would like to thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle...for helping bring the Senate into the 21st century by recognizing that sometimes new parents also have responsibilities at work," Duckworth said in a statement. "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."
Sen. Tammy Duckworth's baby makes her big debut on the Senate floor.
Duckworth is the first sitting senator to give birth while in office, and the Senate unanimously passed a rule change to allow her to nurse her newborn on Senate floor. https://t.co/VeBjl9Jo1U pic.twitter.com/cRdWOVpXIO
— ABC News (@ABC) April 19, 2018
"We are simultaneously thrilled that Senator Duckworth will be able to use her powerful voice on the Senate floor while she cares for her newborn daughter, and stunned that it took the Senate this long to overcome resistance to this basic change that meets the needs of working parents," said Nina Chaudhary of the women's advocacy group UltraViolet, in a statement. "This baby step is a move in the right direction, but the Senate has a long way to go before it can call itself a welcoming workplace for modern parents and especially new mothers."
The Senate's former ban on all children in the gallery was called into question during Duckworth's pregnancy.
"You are not allowed to bring children onto the floor of the Senate at all," Duckworth told Politico in February. "If I have to vote, and I'm breastfeeding my child, especially during my maternity leave period, what do I do?...Am I allowed to vote? Can I not do my job?"
The resolution loosening the ban was passed with unanimous consent—but not without some griping by Republican lawmakers.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) approved of the rule change but wondered, "But what if there are 10 babies on the floor of the Senate?" while Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said, "I don't think [it] is necessary" to allow an infant onto the floor.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) suggested that relegating new parents like Duckworth to the Senate cloakroom "might be a good compromise."
At least one right-wing pundit implied that the presence of an infant on the Senate floor could interfere with the making of conservative laws.
"I have issues with Duckworth potentially being able to weaponize that baby to affect legislative decision-making. And I could see her doing that," said Richard Armande Mills of the free market group Turning Point USA.
To weaponize a baby really means to have on the Senate floor a living, breathing reminder of the existence of a group of people who are helpless through no fault of their own & challenge Senators to acknowledge their words/actions/laws have actual consequences for actual humans.
— Goldie Pops (@busybrains) April 19, 2018
The quarreling over whether to allow Duckworth to bring her child onto the Senate floor is in stark contrast to many of the strides working parents have made in recent years in other countries' lawmaking bodies. Legislators in Argentina, Iceland, and Australia have been permitted to breastfeed their babies while at work.
Remember when an Icelandic lawmaker breastfed her baby while giving a parliamentary speech — and no one cared? https://t.co/ydXeD0AZ9Q
— USNC-UN Women, Metro NY (@unwomenmetrony) January 25, 2017
Here's Larissa Waters moving a motion in the senate while feeding her baby. Didn't miss a beat. pic.twitter.com/1Y7EOCq7qK
— Charles Croucher (@ccroucher9) June 22, 2017
"The Senate should be a leader in the effort to modernize workplaces across our country—and we hope this is just the beginning of Congress' efforts to protect all new parents from discrimination and ensure new parents can do their jobs in a supportive family-friendly environment," said UltraViolet of this week's rule change.