Tammy Duckworth: giving birth shouldn’t force me to give up my Senate vote on key bills

This post was written by Rachel Wolfe @rachelbwolfe rachel.wolfe@vox.com and originally appeared on Vox.com.

“I’m not the first working woman to give birth.”

Tammy Duckworth.png

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) just gave birth to her second child. That makes her the first sitting senator to do so while in office.

But she learned before she welcomed her daughter that the Senate wasn’t built for new mothers — or, for that matter, anyone else who can’t appear in the Senate chamber.

So she wants to change the rules.

In an episode of Politico’s Women Rule podcast in February, the senator, an Iraq War veteran and double amputee, explained the challenge she’s currently facing and what she plans to do about it.

Duckworth plans to take 12 weeks of paid leave. But she’s working with her party’s leadership and her staff to figure out how she can still take important votes while she’s out. Under current Senate protocol, while she’s out, she won’t be able to vote or sponsor legislation — factors that have led some to tell her that she can’t take maternity leave at all.

“You’re not allowed to bring children onto the floor of the Senate at all, so if I have to vote and I’m breastfeeding my child, what do I do, leave her sitting outside?” said Duckworth.

Members of Congress who aren’t able to vote due to an illness or family emergency can inadvertently change the course of history with their absence. It’s why in July, Sen. John McCain, who had just been diagnosed with brain cancer, flew back to Washington to cast votes on Obamacare repeal. Although some committees allow members of the Senate to vote by proxy, they can’t cast votes for bills on the Senate floor without being physically present.

Duckworth has faced this problem before in Congress, without much success: In 2014, when she was a House member and pregnant with her first child, her physician advised her not to travel. The Democratic caucus was about to hold leadership and committee elections, and Duckworth appealed to her fellow Democrats to allow her to vote by proxy. They rejected her plea.

Still, Duckworth is optimistic, citing a Senate that is “hungering for something nonpartisan”: Referring to her pregnancy, she said, “It’s been almost a uniting piece of news where people have come up and people are just so happy.”