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Babies Now Permitted on US Senate Floor

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., left, carries her baby Maile Pearl Bowlsbey as she heads to the Senate floor to vote, and is greeted by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., at right, on Capitol Hill, Thursday, April 19, 2018 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Babies Now Permitted on US Senate Floor
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Lawmakers in the United States Senate may now bring their young babies with them to work.

The Senate voted Wednesday to permit children under the age of one in the chamber while their parents cast votes.

The Senate chamber is where lawmakers discuss and vote on legislation. It has 100 wooden desks -- one for each senator.

The reason for the historic change of rules was the birth of Senator Tammy Duckworth’s baby. The Illinois Democrat gave birth to her second child, another girl, on April 9.

Duckworth, a 50-year-old former Army colonel who lost her legs in the Iraq War, is one of only 10 lawmakers who have given birth while in Congress. And she is the first sitting Senator to do so.

Duckworth wants to be able to continue to vote on issues as she takes care of her infant daughter. But the Senate requires voting to be done in person. So, Duckworth proposed that babies be permitted in the chamber.

No lawmakers objected to the proposal. Duckworth said the ruling helps “bring the Senate into the 21st century.”

Although no one voted against it, senators in both political parties expressed concern about the new rule. They worry that babies might disrupt Senate customs.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., with her baby Maile Pearl Bowlsbey leaves the Senate floor after a voting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., with her baby Maile Pearl Bowlsbey leaves the Senate floor after a voting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, said, “I’m not going to object to anything like that, not in this day and age.”

However, he does not believe it is “necessary” for babies to be on the Senate floor during voting. He suggested that lawmakers with babies could instead cast their votes from a small room near the chamber. “I’ve done it,” he said.

Other senators offered the cloakroom suggestion as a compromise, as well.

In answer, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar noted that Duckworth mostly gets around in a wheelchair. The cloakroom is not wheelchair accessible.

Some senators then proposed making an exception just for Duckworth.

However, Klobuchar and other allies said the Senate should aim to make work life easier for parents. “We strongly believe...that it should be a permanent rules change.”

Klobuchar, a Democrat, said she spent several weeks privately promising both Republicans and Democrats that the new rule would not mean diaper-changing or nursing on the Senate floor.

Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, said he had “no problem” with the rule change.

“But what if there are 10 babies on the floor of the Senate?” he asked.

Klobuchar answered that having ten babies on the floor “would be a delight.” She noted if that were the case, it would likely mean more young senators had been elected to office.

The average age of senators is over 60.

I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

Are there rules in your country that permit lawmakers to go to work with their young children? Let us know in the comments section.


Words in This Story

cast - v. to make (a vote) formally

infant - n. a very young child

disrupt - v. to cause (something) to be unable to continue in the normal way

cloakroom - n. a room in a public building where coats and other belongings may be left temporarily

accessible - adj. able to be reached or approached

diaper - n. a piece of cloth or other material that is placed between a baby's legs and fastened around the waist to hold body waste

delight - n. a strong feeling of happiness : great pleasure or satisfaction