Sen. Tammy Duckworth bringing baby to Senate floor shines new light on working parents

At just 10 days old, the daughter of Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., wasted no time making history. Maile Pearl Bowlsbey made her appearance on the U.S. Senate floor Thursday with her mom, marking the first time a child was ever allowed on the floor of what’s known as the world’s greatest deliberative body.

This comes following a unanimous vote Wednesday in favor of changing the Senate rules to allow infants on the floor until the age of 1, so that women in the Senate have more flexibility while they vote.

Duckworth even made sure Maile abided by the Senate dress code, tweeting beforehand in part: “I may have to vote today, so Maile’s outfit is prepped. I made sure she has a jacket so she doesn’t violate the Senate floor dress code (which requires blazers).”

Maile isn’t the only one who made history. Duckworth also made history as the first senator to give birth while holding office. She said early on that she would push for a change to the Senate rules, so that she could keep her infant close to her.

This is the first instance where the Senate has been faced with the idea of changing its rules to accommodate a new mother.

Following the rules change, Duckworth expressed gratitude in a statement to her colleagues “for helping bring the Senate into the 21st Century by recognizing that sometimes new parents also have responsibilities at work.”

It’s great that we’re making strides and accommodating working moms by providing more flexibility in the workplace. We’ve seen more and more companies in recent years become more family friendly, allowing working parents options such as telecommuting or flexible hours.

However, the workplace is still a place of business, and across the country working moms make accommodations every day as well.

Those accommodations run the spectrum from full-time child care while mothers work outside of their home, to part-time child care that takes place in their home while they’re telecommuting, or to just arranging for someone to meet their kids at the bus stop after school.

All of these adaptations that working parents have to make also cost money. All members of Congress, including working moms, should be mindful that their constituents – the people who pay their salaries and benefits, who pay for their offices and their staffs – have to pay out of pocket for these services.

Many vocations, by their very nature, aren’t conducive to having a baby in the workplace. Physicians, dentists, psychologists, teachers, or grocery store clerks are just a few examples.

You couldn’t bring a baby into an examination room while you’re consulting with a patient, into your office while conducting a therapy session, or into your classroom while you’re teaching a room full of kids. Nor could you stand behind a cash register holding a baby while ringing up groceries for several hours. 

While no senator stood in the way of the rules change, some wondered about having infants on the floor of the Senate. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he didn’t have a problem with it, but asked this question: “But what if there are 10 babies on the floor of the Senate?”

It’s a valid question, and one that may need to be addressed down the road, should there be a baby boom among female senators – or should any Senate father decide to bring his infant onto the Senate floor.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., suggested the cloakroom as a compromise, since some of his colleagues were uncomfortable with babies on the floor. However, the cloakroom isn’t wheelchair-accessible and Duckworth is a war veteran who lost both legs in Iraq.

While suggestions were made to make an exception for Duckworth, they were dismissed in lieu of the rules change to make things easier for new moms to do their jobs.

The Senate for many years now has had the stigma of being an old-fashioned men’s club, and it’s nice to see senators making strides in the 21st century and accommodating women.

In this day and age, it would almost be shocking if any senators had voted against Duckworth. The visual of a group made up predominantly of men voting against a mom just wouldn’t play well in the court of public opinion, and I think they were all smart enough to know that.

However, senators need to be careful to find and keep that balance between accommodating working mothers and remembering that the Senate is still a place of business, which means working moms also need to be mindful to make accommodations.

Of all the arguments in favor of changing the Senate rules, the best may have come from Sen. Marco Rubio. R-Fla., when he said jokingly: "Why would I object to it? We have plenty of babies on the floor.”  

Who can argue with that logic?

Lauren DeBellis Appell, a freelance writer in Fairfax, Virginia, was deputy press secretary for then-Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., in his successful 2000 re-election campaign, as well as assistant communications director for the Senate Republican Policy Committee (2001-2003).