Political baby talk

The Great Senate Baby Scare

IT BECAME A high-profile debate over open carry.

But unlike the matter of openly flashing lethal weaponry while strolling through town, which people in some states regard as much ado about not much at all, this open carry debate played out at a high level.

The controversial subject of this carry kerfuffle: newborn babies.

The tempest in a sippy cup was set off when Sen. Tammy Duckworth became the first sitting member of the Senate to give birth while in office. The Illinois Democrat didn’t have the option of having anyone fill in for her to take votes while she was on leave, so she decided to return to the Senate for a key vote with her 10-day-old daughter in hand.

Before she could do so, however, the Senate had to vote to change its rules, which had prohibited children from the floor while it is in session. In the end, the rule change was approved unanimously, but not before a little fretting over what opening the baby gates might portend.

Calamity had not seemed this close at hand since the Music Man warned the mothers of River City about the horrors that might follow once their sons start rebuckling their knickers below their knees. The world’s most august deliberative body, which sometimes seems to double as a senior center for octogenarian men, went into a mild tizzy.

The Great Senate Baby Scare of 2018 was captured best by retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch. The  84-year-old Utahan asked his colleagues to ponder where this could all lead. “But what if there are 10 babies on the floor of the Senate?” he asked.

“That would be wonderful and a delight,” answered Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

For Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, the Senate baby talk was all too familiar. Both of the at-large councilor’s sons were born since the time she took office in 2014. And in an essay she wrote for CNN in the wake of Duckworth’s historic arrival last week on the Senate floor with newborn Maile, Wu wrote, “I have been cheering on Senator Duckworth with admiration and empathy.”

Before a child care slot opened up, Wu brought her older son to committee hearings, where he slept soundly on her desk. The reaction of colleagues and the public was overwhelmingly supportive, but Wu said she was blistered by an online critic who went so far as to call on her to resign.

“If she cannot devote her full attention when doing Council business, she should not serve,” she says he tweeted at one point.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

“Too often, our societal norms still set up a false choice between parenting and professionalism,” wrote Wu.

Granted, in lots of jobs people would never have the option to have a newborn at work with them. But in settings where it’s possible, it seems like a perfectly reasonable step into the 21st century.

What’s more, writes Sarah Kliff in Vox, a world with 10 babies on the Senate floor might even bring better financing of child care services or be one where fathers play a bigger role in parenting. “Come to think of it,” she writes, “a world with 10 babies on the Senate floor doesn’t sound so bad at all.”