Sen. Tammy Duckworth will soon become the first sitting U.S. senator in history to give birth, but making history means her workplace isn't quite ready to accommodate her new role. Duckworth is challenging Senate maternity leave rules that simultaneously make it difficult for parents to go on leave or continue working.
The Illinois Democrat told POLITICO's Women Rule podcast she won't officially take her office's 12 weeks of paid maternity leave because she wouldn't be allowed to vote or sponsor legislation for the entire three-month period — '"it's going to change some Senate rules," she said. The senator also explained that she's trying to come up with a way she can continue voting while taking care of her newborn; she's due in April, which gives her a few months to figure out a game plan.
While the Senate's voting rule presents one hurdle, it's not the only one Duckworth faces. She also has to address the fact that if she is allowed to vote while on leave, she won't be able to bring her baby with her.
"You are not allowed to bring children onto the floor of the Senate at all," she told Women Rule. "If I have to vote, and I'm breastfeeding my child, especially during my maternity leave period, what do I do? Leave her sitting outside?"
Because senators must be physically present in order to cast a vote, Duckworth wouldn't have a say in what legislation is passed if she went home to Chicago (like she did in 2014 after she had her first child while serving in the House). In Illinois' 2016 Senate race, her opponent criticized her for missing roll call votes while taking three months off after giving birth. Duckworth, however, said her experience motivated her to fight for every American to have paid maternity leave. As she explained in a 2016 primary debate:
I think voters will understand that at 46 when I had her I wanted to spend every minute of maternity leave that I could. So, for those 12 weeks, I took maternity leave. In fact, I feel so strongly about this that I have introduced a bill in Congress to support mothers getting maternity leave, first in the military.
When Duckworth first announced her second pregnancy last month, she told the Chicago Sun Times her role as a mom continues to inspire her work.
As tough as it's been to juggle motherhood and the demands of being in the House and now the Senate, it's made me more committed to doing this job.
She said every time her 3-year-old daughter sees a picture of the U.S. Capitol, she says, "Mommy's office." "I have to say," Duckworth added, "'Well, it's not quite Mommy's office, but in a way you're right.'"
Spending time away from an office in the House presents fewer problems than taking leave from a Senate office, though. For one, votes tend to be much closer in the Senate than the House, with a current 51 to 49 party split. Though Democrats are in the minority, Duckworth's vote is still crucial when members don't vote down party lines, or when others are absent.
There are currently 22 women serving in the Senate; none have ever given birth while in office, so the Senate has never had to contend with rules banning children from the floor and prohibiting members on maternity leave from voting. Now, Duckworth is fighting to make sure she, and any future new moms, can continue working on Capitol Hill while caring for a newborn — archaic rules banning her from showing up for work won't cut it.