In a rare move, the Senate on Wednesday night voted to change longstanding rules to allow newborns – for the first time – onto the Senate floor during votes.
The rule change, voted through by unanimous consent, was done to accommodate senators with newborn babies, allowing them now to be able to bring a child under 1 year old onto the Senate floor and breastfeed them during votes.
Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who gave birth this month to her second child, becoming the first US Senator to do so while in office, spearheaded the push for the rule change and applauded her fellow lawmakers who she says helped to “bring the Senate into the 21st Century by recognizing that sometimes new parents also have responsibilities at work.”
“By ensuring that no Senator will be prevented from performing their constitutional responsibilities simply because they have a young child, the Senate is leading by example and sending the important message that working parents everywhere deserve family-friendly workplace policies,” Duckworth said in a statement after the vote.
Duckworth decided to take her maternity leave in Washington, DC, rather than in Illinois, to be able to be on hand and available to cast her vote in the Senate if needed. But she expressed concern about the complex and strict Senate rules, which might impact her ability to do so while caring for – and breastfeeding – her newborn.
There are a whole host of Senate rules that would make voting difficult for a senator while caring for her baby – being unable to hand the baby off to a staffer, being unable to bring a child onto the floor and being unable to vote via proxy.
Duckworth has been working behind the scenes for months to change the rules – the likes of which have not been changed for quite some time. The last time the Senate granted additional floor privileges was in 1977 when it voted to change Senate rules to allow service dogs.
The change was not done without some concern from some senators.
Congressional aides tell CNN that there were many real questions from senators, expressing concern about the impact of opening the floor up to newborns. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, said that the questions from other senators varied, from asking whether diapers will be changed on the Senate floor to questions if there should be a dress code for the baby on the floor.
“It’s been quite a journey,” Klobuchar told CNN of her help as the top Democratic member of the Senate Rules Committee, working with Chairman Roy Blunt of Missouri to get this out of quickly and onto the Senate floor.
“The Senate is steeped in tradition and just like the rest of the country, sometimes things have to change,” she said.
After the rule change passed this evening Sen. Dick Durbin, the second ranking Democrat in the chamber, said he thinks the change will be a welcome improvement to the floor.
“Perhaps the cry of a baby will shock the Senate at times into speaking out and even crying out on the issues that confront our nation and the world,” Durbin said.
CNN’s Betsy Klein contributed to this report.