Maile Pearl Bowlsbey is just over a week old and already she’s helping force more change in the Senate than most seasoned lawmakers can even dream. She’s doing it with the help of her mom, Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth.
Duckworth gave birth to Maile, her second child, on April 9, and she wants to keep her newborn nearby when she’s doing her job as a senator. That would require a change in Senate rules that typically allow only senators and a handful of staff into the Senate chamber during votes.
The Senate Rules Committee is poised this week to approve a measure to allow Senators, moms and dads, to bring an infant along to votes until the child reaches one year. Duckworth is currently on a brief maternity leave, but she hopes to return for critical votes as early as next week.
“I think we ought to accommodate people as much as we can,” said Alabama Republican Richard Shelby. “The Senate I guess has evolved slowly for a long time, but evolution is always going on.”
Rules Committee chairman Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said some of that slow evolution might be because Duckworth is the first Senator to ever give birth while in office.
“There haven’t been a lot of moms bringing little babies on the floor in the Senate in the past because there haven’t been moms having babies in the Senate in the past,” Blunt told reporters on Tuesday.
Blunt said he has been working with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, to approve the measure quickly and without opposition from any senators. So far, none has raised objections, meaning the bill could be whisked through the full Senate without ever coming up for a formal vote.
Senators say the bill seems like a fairly commonsense accommodation that reflects the Senate as it is today — with 23 women and a handful of younger parents.
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins says the rule is also narrowly written to allow parents of children under a year to perform their duties without being separated from their children, and to allow the business of the Senate to go on uninterrupted.
“It was a very practical debate of how does a new mother mange to vote and yet take care of her child,” Collins said. “Now, obviously it would interfere with our ability to get our work done if we had lots of toddlers crawling around.”
All of this might seem like a pretty simple and logical change but the Senate is often a slow, tradition-bound place. The rules are so hard to change that it took Budget Committee chairman Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., years to get his fellow senators to allow him to bring a laptop to the floor to keep track of tricky amendments during a budget debate.
“I was disrupting the progress of the Senate, supposedly,” Enzi said. “One senator told me that he couldn’t type, and if I was typing he’d feel compelled to explain to his constituents that he couldn’t.”
Enzi says that allowing a parent to bring their infant along so that they can follow through with Senate duties is an entirely different, more important issue. Plus, he says, Duckworth’s argument has another impressive edge: “Mothers are more persuasive than men.”