Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

New bipartisan bill would let moms in Congress vote by proxy after giving birth

By 37ci3 Jan19,2024


WASHINGTON — Shortly before giving birth to her first child in August, first-term Rep. Anna Paulina Luna met with House Republican leadership to ask how she plans to vote on behalf of her constituents after the birth.

“They told me I couldn’t vote,” the Republican firebrand from Florida told NBC News. Although she is the 12th woman to give birth while serving in Congress, the House has no guidelines for members after giving birth.

Things took a turn for the worse after Luna developed high blood pressure just before giving birth, a potentially fatal condition known as preeclampsia that affects some pregnant women, and continued to struggle postpartum. In the early weeks of her pregnancy, Luna also developed mastitis, an infection common among nursing women, as her congressional colleagues voted to prevent a government shutdown and oust then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy from California, and her doctors advised her not to. Not going back to Washington.

Rep.  Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL) holds her son in the House on October 17, 2023.
Luna holds her son during a vote for speaker of the House of Representatives in October.Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images file

Determined to change the dynamic for the women who came after her, Luna spent her doctor-prescribed time at home reading the 1,500-page House Rules and Handbook during breaks to care for her infant son, Henry. Now she’s introducing a bipartisan bill that would allow women to vote through a proxy to have a partner vote on their behalf within the first six weeks after giving birth.

“I just wanted to make sure it was put on paper so that there would be some guidance for other members who have children after me,” she told NBC News. “Two, I just don’t think it’s right to leave mothers out of the conversation. I can’t help but have children. It is part of my life and therefore I should not be discriminated against.”

He found an unlikely partner in his bid to change archaic House rules: Rep. Sarah Jacobs of California, who co-authored the legislation with him. The two seem to have little in common. Luna is a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump and aligns with conservative hardliners on nearly every issue, while Jacobs is a member of the party leadership and often advocates a progressive platform.

But they bonded over their age – both are 34 and serve in a ward where an MP is almost twice the average age – and common interests outside of politics.

Jacobs, who is freezing her eggs in her first year in Congress in 2021, said she wants to have children but worries about doing so while working in a profession not set up for new parents.

“Honestly, this institution was designed by old people for old people. And there’s really nothing to support our younger members,” said Jacobs, who sat next to Luna at the Capitol. “And I think it’s important that we have more young people, that we have more parents in office, because we have different issues that we’re dealing with. and we need to make sure that Congress addresses these issues as well.”

Proxy voting became a partisan issue on Capitol Hill after then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi authorized the practice during the pandemic in May 2020. Members used an unprecedented House rule change to avoid exposure while traveling to Washington or sick themselves.

But the practice continued, even as many Americans were asked to return to work in person and some lawmakers began using it for other reasons, such as attending political events. Proxy voting was not very popular among Republicans, even though many used it themselves. Even then-Republican leader Kevin McCarthy protested in court and promptly ended the practice when the GOP took back the House majority last year.

Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee was among the Republicans who opposed the proxy vote, but he supports Luna and Jacobs’ legislation.

“Friends have called me to ask for a vote and I wouldn’t because I think members are abusing the practice during Covid,” he said during a press conference announcing the bill on Thursday. “They used it to go to fundraisers, they used it to go on vacation. I mean, they would just fake things, but you can’t fake a pregnancy.

Anna Paulina Luna at the Longworth House Office Building
Anna Paulina Luna in her office in the Longworth House Office Building on Wednesday.Frank Thorp V / NBC News

As Luna himself entered Congress, the lawyer opposed the vote. But he now chalks up his old views to inexperience.

“I think as a freshman, there are a lot of things that you don’t fully understand about how the institute works. And so a lot of things, you’re just expected to learn on your own,” he said. “I’ll admit that I think it’s wrong because what you’re actually doing is preventing one of the female members, not just from having children, but two, you’re basically saying you have to choose between your career. and your family.”

The legislation is written to apply only to “a member who has recently given birth,” intentionally excluding new mothers who have a baby through surrogate or who choose to adopt, and men who father children while serving in Congress. (It became an issue earlier this session, when McCarthy needed votes to become speaker, and Texas Republican Rep. Wesley Hunt missed two rounds of voting after his son was born prematurely.)

“It’s a topic we choose to address,” Luna said, adding that the attorney is not opposed to expanding certain elements of the ballot. “But I mean, each Congress sets the rules for its own House of Representatives. Therefore, based on these discussions, I assume that this issue will probably be considered in the next Congress,” he added.

Jacobs, who has been diagnosed with cancer in 2022 for Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin and other Democrats, has sought to further expand the proxy vote, allowing the practice for lawmakers with serious medical conditions or who have a spouse or dependent.

“I know from talking to my Democratic colleagues that there is a lot of appetite to try to modernize Congress so that we have the same workplace rights as any other worker,” Jacobs said. “So that we can be with family members when they die — so that we can build strong families and serve as members of Congress.”

Luna said it would be “hypocritical” for her colleagues to oppose the bill, “because you have my party promoting family values ​​and motherhood, and then you have the Democratic Party promoting women’s empowerment.”

The legislation could even open the door to creating a paid leave policy for members of Congress, which is something it is built only for the employees who work for them.

“There is nothing for female members who have given birth. So I think we have to think about finding something,” Luna said. “I never expected that I wouldn’t be able to represent my constituents. I think it was a slap in the face for all of them. And I think it’s time to change that.”



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