WASHINGTON — Newborns will now be allowed on the Senate floor after senators voted unanimously Wednesday to allow infants under the age of 1 added to the short list of people who can enter the exclusive area.
The request to change Senate rules was made by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who was the first sitting senator to give birth. She gave birth to Maile Pearl Bowlsbey on April 9.
There were practical reasons for the request. The Senate sometimes votes late at night and takes multiple 15-minute votes back to back, often taking an hour or longer, which could be a long time away from a newborn who needs to be fed.
But according to Duckworth’s aide, it’s also about principle. Women are still vastly underrepresented in the Senate even though there’s a record 23 women serving.
“I would like to thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, particularly those in leadership and on the Rules Committee, for helping bring the Senate into the 21st century by recognizing that sometimes new parents also have responsibilities at work,” Duckworth said in a statement.
The Senate chamber became one of the most exclusive clubs in the 1800s, when senators complained about too many people hanging out on the floor. Senators created a list that has been added to over the last century but still allows just a few people into the chamber. They include the president and vice president, members of Congress, the mayor of Washington and senators’ staff members.
As for babies, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called the addition a “no-brainer.”
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., is enthusiastically supportive of babies on the floor, calling them an excellent distraction. He also noted that children under 12 are allowed on the House floor.
“Originally it was designed to not slow down debate,” Lankford said of the rules. “We don’t have that problem; we’re trying to actually start debate at all here. So bring it.”
Duckworth's fellow Democratic senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, said babies could be an inspiration to the Senate. “I think it would do us good, every once in a while, to see a pacifier next to the antique inkwells on our desks, or a diaper bag next to a brass spittoon that hasn’t been used in decades," he said. "Perhaps the cry of a baby will shock this Senate into speaking up and even crying out on the issues that confront our nation and world."
But will babies have to carry the mandatory floor pass? Or adhere to a dress code? Or wear the Senate pin?
“Don’t put pins on babies! What do you think this is?” exclaimed Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
“I think we can get that baby on with no identification and trust the mother,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. “The baby will be able to wear whatever the baby wants to wear.”