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Senate changes rules: Sen. Tammy Duckworth baby to be allowed on Senate floor

Senate members threw a baby shower for Sen. Tammy Duckworth in March. | Office of Senator Kamala D. Harris

WASHINGTON — Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s newborn daughter, Maile Pearl Bowlsbey, will become the first baby to get Senate floor privileges.

The Senate on Wednesday, moving with unusual speed and in rare bipartisanship, unanimously approved the resolution crafted by Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, to allow toddlers under the age of one on the floor during votes.

“We changed the standing rules of the United States Senate so that Senator Duckworth and any other senator who’s a parent of an infant could bring their child to the floor of the Senate during a vote,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaking on the Senate floor.

Duckworth will be able to “vote as a senator without giving up her responsibility as a mom at that moment. I think it will do us good in the United States Senate, every once in a while to see a pacifier next to the antique inkwells on our desk or a diaper bag next to one of these brass spittoons which sits on the floor, thank goodness never used,” Durbin said.

“Perhaps the occasional cry of a baby will shock the Senate at times into speaking up and even crying out on the issues that confront our nation and the world. … Today we officially say to Maile Pearl Bowlsbey welcome to the world and welcome to the United States Senate,” said Durbin.

In thanking colleagues from both parties, 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. These policies aren’t just a women’s issue, they are a common-sense economic issue.”

Duckworth made Senate history on April 9, when she became the first sitting senator to give birth while in office. Rather than take a formal maternity leave at her home in Hoffman Estates, Duckworth is sticking around Washington in order to be available to come to the Senate in case her vote is needed.

The resolution allows any senator — man or woman — who has a son or daughter under the age of one onto the floor of the Senate during votes. The definition in the resolution of son or daughter “means a biological, adopted, or foster child, a stepchild, a legal ward, or a child of a person standing in loco parentis.”

The measure jetted out of the Senate Rules Committee under the leadership of the Chairman, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and the top Democrat, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

“This is an example for the country that all employers need to start looking at work family-friendly places,” Klobuchar told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The work situation in the Senate is unique because “you could be called in with very little notice … at two in the morning” for a vote and “you may not have child care.”

Klobuchar said this was the first change in floor privilege rules since service dogs were allowed in 1977. There are 23 female senators, a record high.

Some senators did raise concerns, Klobuchar said.

“And what was really interesting was some of the objections, like well ‘Why can’t she just vote from the cloakroom?’ Well, the cloakroom is not wheelchair accessible unless you go through the Senate floor,” Klobuchar said. Duckworth, a wounded Iraq war vet who lost her legs and shattered an arm when her helicopter was shot down, often uses a wheelchair.

“So then someone said to me, ‘Why can’t her staff hold the baby while she goes through to the cloak room? And I said well, because the staff is not supposed to be babysitters under federal law and that she doesn’t want to have them do that,” Klobuchar said.

Duckworth, 50, now the mother of two daughters, is nursing her newborn. Klobuchar said some senators were worried if Duckworth were going to breast feed or change diapers on the Senate floor.

Klobuchar said her basic answer was, Duckworth “is a person of great decorum and she will figure it out and she is not going to change the baby’s diaper on the Senate floor.”