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The tantrum over babies on the Senate floor, explained

Let’s imagine a world with 10 babies crawling around Congress.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth Brings New Baby To Work After New Senate Law Passes Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

“But what if there are 10 babies on the floor of the Senate?”

This was the question posed by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), in a discussion over whether children under age 1 ought to be allowed inside the Senate chamber during votes.

The whole debate began after Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) recently became the first sitting senator to give birth in office. Senate rules require votes to be taken in person, and, as new parents are quite aware, leaving a newborn can be a struggle — particularly for women who breastfeed.

So Duckworth suggested a natural solution: bringing Senate rules into the 21st century by allowing new parents to bring their young children into the chamber.

This suggestion was, as Laurie Kellman of the Associated Press reported, initially met with some skepticism from older male senators seemingly worried about a possible baby invasion of a most hallowed chamber.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) said of the proposal, although he also noted that he wouldn’t oppose it.

And then there was Hatch, who worried about the long-term consequences of this rule change: “But what if there are 10 babies on the floor of the Senate?”

This, of course, led to a barrage of Twitter jokes about the possible baby takeover of Congress’s more deliberative body:

But let’s take Hatch’s question seriously for a moment: What if we did live in a world where there were 10 babies on the Senate floor, all brought there during votes, presumably by their senator parents?

After all, Sens. Hatch, Roberts, and their 98 colleagues voted unanimously to allow babies on the Senate floor, bringing us one step closer to more infants crawling about the Capitol.

The Senate would no doubt be a little noisier. The Capitol Architect’s office may even need to look into increasing the number of lactation rooms on Capitol Hill to accommodate the new patrons.

A world where 10 babies were on the Senate floor presumably is a world where there are more women serving in the Senate — as we know that in most households where both parents work, women still take care of the majority of child care responsibilities. That certainly sounds like a good thing: Currently, 21 women serve in the Senate. Only 50 women have served in the Senate in the body’s entire history.

A world where 10 babies were on the Senate floor might encourage more women to run for government — understanding that they could have a bright future in a government that supports working women and thinks it’s worth making reasonable accommodations to allow them to work.

A world where 10 babies were on the Senate floor might require better financing of day care services, where the waitlist currently stands at “several” years.

A world where 10 babies were on the Senate floor might be one where men are taking a more active role in parenting. Men, too, have babies while they serve in the Senate — you just don’t hear nearly as much about it. Allowing these men to also bring their babies onto the Senate floor would give dads an easier chance to share child care equitably with their partners. Economists who study the gender pay gap think this equal division of labor is key to ensuring that women are able to get paid just as much as men.

Come to think of it, a world with 10 babies on the Senate floor doesn’t sound so bad at all.

Update: After I tweeted a link to this story, Sen. Hatch’s office responded (also via Twitter) with a statement from the senator:

And late Thursday afternoon, Sen. Duckworth’s 10-day-old baby made history by becoming the first infant to enter the Senate chamber — with a very conscious clothing choice by her mother.