Nancy Pelosi Leaves Tammy Duckworth Pregnant & Unable To Vote — And That's Bad For Women

The latest debate in Congress surprisingly isn't related to President Barack Obama. Democratic representatives are currently divided over Rep. Tammy Duckworth's pregnancy. The Illinois representative and Iraq War veteran is eight months pregnant, and must wait out the remaining weeks of her pregnancy at home, causing her to miss the House Democratic Caucus leadership elections this week. You would think Duckworth's fellow Democrats would be sympathetic to her unique situation — Duckworth is also a double-amputee, having lost both legs during military service — but as it turns out, there's politics at play: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi denied Duckworth's request to vote by proxy in the leadership elections, and it may be for reasons other than tradition.

The Democratic Caucus forbids voting by proxy in its elections, as does the Republican Caucus. According to The National Journal, Pelosi and Democratic Steering and Police Committee cochair Rep. Rosa DeLauro discussed Duckworth's proxy request in a closed-door meeting last week, and came to a consensus: no way. A spokesperson from DeLauro's office told The National Journal that this wasn't about Duckworth or pregnant Congress members on a whole, but about opening the proverbial floodgates for those wanting to use every single doctor's note and excuse as a reason to not vote in person:

Congresswoman DeLauro does not want to set a precedent. There are many meritorious situations where the argument could be made for a waiver, including Congresswoman Duckworth's. The question is, how do you choose?
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In a meeting of House Democrats on Tuesday, tensions flared. House Democrats were torn — and some, a bit outraged — over Pelosi's position, calling it an injustice and pushing for the party's leaders to make an exception for Duckworth. According to The Hill, Democratic House members on Duckworth's side included civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and Mississippi's Rep. Bennie Thomas, who told the news source after Tuesday's meeting:

A lot of people felt that Tammy's patriotism and sacrifice to this country warrants special consideration. And I'm one of those people who think it's hard to make an argument that it does not require special consideration. She's given parts of her body for her country, and if it came to a vote, I would vote to give her a proxy.

Even Jon Stewart stepped into the fray. The Daily Show host criticized Pelosi, a frequent guest of the show, in a scathing segment this week called “Petty Woman.” Stewart highlighted Pelosi's political advocacy, which includes support for early voting and measures protecting pregnant women, as well as her support from organizations such as the National Partnership for Women & Families. So doesn't that make her, well, a bit of a hypocrite, Stewart asks?:

You're suppressing the vote of a minority pregnant woman who is a wounded war veteran. She is everything you supposedly stand for, stuffed into one individual. She is a Democratic demographic Tur-Duckworth. Why? Why would you do this?!

On it's face, this situation looks like an alternate reality dreamed up in Rush Limbaugh's drug-induced hallucinations: the Nancy Pelosi, self-defined champion of women, discriminating against a pregnant woman?

The House Minority Leader contended that this had nothing to do with refusing pregnant Congress members the right to vote, nor does it infringe on paternity or family leave for House members. She said at a press conference on Monday:

You’re going to establish a situation where you’re going to determine who has a note from the doctor that’s valid…it’s really a place we shouldn’t go down. ... [Duckworth] is a heroine to our country. Knowing about the baby, I appointed Congresswoman Duckworth to the Benghazi committee. I wanted our strongest members there. I said just take it as it comes.

However, some political pundits believe this wasn't about upholding Congressional tradition; rather, it was about Duckworth's potential vote. In the running for the top Democratic position on the House Energy and Commerce Committee were Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, who Duckworth personally supports, and California's Rep. Anna Eshoo, who's backed by Pelosi. The House Minority Leader aggressively campaigned for Eshoo over the last 10 months, even acting as Eshoo's campaign manager, The Washington Post reported.

But many high-profile House members threw their weight behind Pallone and his seniority, rejecting Pelosi and her politics in the process. It was a close race and in the end, Pallone defeated Pelosi's pick in Wednesday's election — without Duckworth's vote.

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Duckworth's office released a statement last week acknowledging the Democratic Party's decision, but still, Pelosi's recent actions left a bad taste in the mouths of House Democrats. But Pelosi and her supporters have also triggered a worthy discussion: Should there be accommodations made for pregnant members of Congress?

This is relatively new territory — in the history of Congress, only 10 members, including Duckworth, have served while pregnant. Just last year, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers became the first Congress member to give birth three times during her tenure. But as more women — most of whom are working mothers — continue to be elected to Congress, accommodations for pregnant women is a discussion worth having.

The irony here, of course, is that the people who tend to facilitate this discussion — the Democrats, led by Pelosi — are the ones undermining their own platform. Pelosi is an ardent champion of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a bill that states it's illegal for employers, agencies and the like to "fail to make reasonable accommodations to known limitations related to the pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions" of employees and job applicants. Pelosi is pushing for Congress to pass this bill, but how can we expect to take her seriously when she can't stand by her own platforms?

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