Senate Comes Closer to Being an Accommodating Workplace

(Bloomberg View) -- Never say Congress accomplished nothing this year: The U.S. Senate has shaken its traditions and decided it's OK for senators who are new parents to bring their babies to the Senate floor.

Illinois Democrat Tammy Duckworth recently became the first senator to give birth while in office. And because Senate rules don't allow staff to watch the baby while the boss runs to the Senate floor to vote -- and because voting in both chambers of Congress must be done in person -- Duckworth wasn't going to be able to do her job without violating Senate rules. In fact, Duckworth couldn't take advantage of an option senators have sometimes used and vote from the doorway of the cloakroom, because it turns out the cloakroom isn't wheelchair-accessible and therefore Duckworth can't do that. 

Orrin Hatch had the headline quote in the debate: "But what if there are 10 babies on the floor of the Senate?” Congress scholar Molly Reynolds responded on Twitter: "by my count, there are 12 senators younger than Duckworth, and 11 are men. If there are 10 babies on the floor of the Senate in the future, I hope it's because more women get elected to the chamber earlier in their careers."

When I was a young Senate staffer back in 1987, there were only two women in the Senate. The current number is 23, thanks to two appointed senators in recent months. There's a good chance that will increase in 2019. Only North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp and Missouri's Claire McCaskill appear to be in fairly serious trouble for re-election, while Jeff Flake in Arizona will likely be replaced by a woman and women have solid chances in Nevada and Tennessee. 

At any rate, it would be nice if the Senate would be more ahead of the curve on these sorts of things. As political scientist Corrine McConnaughy said, "This isn't special accommodation for a woman. It is undoing accommodation of only men." The burden of that "undoing" shouldn't have to fall on the first new mother in Senate history and any other senators (and staff, for that matter) who run up into rules and norms that were set up for a Senate as it existed prior to the 19th Amendment (and the Civil Rights Act, and the Americans With Disabilities Act). And it would be a really good idea for the people's representatives to work to establish a great model of what a workplace that is open and inviting to all should look like. 

1. A must-read from Greg Koger on what we want Congress to do -- and what we expect members of Congress to do. 

2. Matt Grossmann and David A. Hopkins explain why Democrats aren't getting a Tea Party equivalent.

3. John Delury at the Monkey Cage on what Kim Jong Un may want out of a summit with President Donald Trump.

4. Jamelle Bouie argues for lowering the voting age.

5. My Bloomberg View colleague Justin Fox on Nafta and Mexico

6. And the Washington Post's Jenna Johnson on things you didn't know. Or at least someone didn't know.

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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