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Lawmakers Want To Change Senate Rules, Allowing Mothers To Care For Newborns And Vote

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Maile Pearl Bowlsbey is just over 1 week old, and already she is helping to force more change in the U.S. Senate than most seasoned lawmakers can ever dream of doing. NPR's Kelsey Snell explains.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Maile's mom is Illinois Democrat Tammy Duckworth, and she'd like to keep her newborn nearby when she's doing her job as a senator. But like many first-time parents, it took the baby's arrival for the Senate to realize how much they'd have to change.

SUSAN COLLINS: It was no longer a theoretical debate. It was a very practical debate of how does a new mother manage to vote and yet take care of her child?

SNELL: That's Maine Republican Susan Collins. If the rule goes through, parents with kids under one year can bring them along so they don't have to skip out on important votes.

COLLINS: Now, obviously it would interfere with our ability to get our work done if we had lots of toddlers crawling around.

SNELL: Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt says this all took a while because the Senate has never had to worry about this before.

ROY BLUNT: There haven't been a lot of moms bringing little babies on the floor in the Senate in the past because there haven't been moms having babies in the Senate in the past.

SNELL: Today, there are 23 women in the Senate, and Duckworth is the first one to have a child while serving in office. Now, all this may seem like a pretty simple and logical change, but usually senators and a handful of staff are the only ones allowed on the Senate floor. Plus the Senate is slow. Even simple things can take years, just ask Wyoming Republican Mike Enzi. He was the last person to try to change the Senate floor rules. He wanted to bring a laptop along back in 2007, and he still officially can't. Enzi says his request wasn't nearly as pressing as allowing a new mother to be with her child. And he joked Duckworth has a pretty impressive edge.

MIKE ENZI: Mothers are more persuasive than men.

SNELL: The proposal still has to be approved by the full Senate. But so far, there are no objections. And as several senators said, the baby is here and Duckworth is ready to vote. Kelsey Snell, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
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