Washington • Sen. Orrin Hatch said this week he was fine allowing babies on the Senate floor, but then he asked a follow-up question of his own.
What, he mused, would happen “if there are 10 babies on the floor of the Senate?”
That quote, nabbed by an Associated Press reporter just off the Senate floor, triggered the kind of storm that could fill a lot of diapers.
Hatch, 84, was responding to a proposal he supported to allow Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat who is the first senator to give birth while in office, to bring children under the age of 1 onto the Senate floor during votes and even breastfeed there.
Hatch said he had “no problem” with the rule change, but his offhand question afterward didn’t go over well.
“Someone needs to tell @senorrinhatch that HE is one of MANY babies on the senate floor crying and throwing tantrums on a daily basis,” responding one person on Twitter.
“Today @senorrinhatch was concerned what would happen if there were 10 babies on the Senate floor. But really, don’t we know what that looks like?” added another.
It was a comment ripe for ridicule.
“We could only wish we had 10 babies on the floor,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told The AP. “That would be a delight.”
Hatch’s office said Thursday that his question was clearly a joke, noting the senator has six children, 14 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.
“Despite the senator’s vocal support for the change, some shared his joke out of context, implying that the senator was objecting to the policy change,” said Hatch spokesman Matt Whitlock. “He was not, and was pleased to see the change pass unanimously in the Senate yesterday with his support.”
Hatch’s office also poked fun at his age on Twitter responding to the backlash.
“When I was elected to the Senate not long after the industrial revolution, it was important to me to keep my family close,” the office tweeted. “I supported the rules change allowing infants on the Senate floor because I believe we should make it as easy as possible for elected representatives to balance their jobs as elected officials with their even more important jobs as parents, and I congratulate Senator Duckworth on her new addition to the family.”
Duckworth, trying out the new rule on the first day, brought her newborn daughter, Maile, to cast a vote against a controversial nominee to head NASA. The vote was 50-49 to confirm Rep. James Bridenstine.
“It feels great,” Duckworth told reporters. “It is about time, huh?”
On the other side of the Capitol, the House has long allowed babies on the floor, including then-Rep. Enid Micklesen from Utah, who in 1995 was the first Republican congresswoman to give birth while in office. (Democrat Yvonne Brathwaite Burke was the first to become a mother while serving — in 1973.)
Mickelsen says it’s completely appropriate to allow children on the House or Senate floor — as long as the parent is attentive and respectful.
“I think it depends on if the parent is thoughtful about other people,” Mickelsen said Thursday. “My view is that if your baby starts to cry in a movie or cry someplace where other people are trying to concentrate, you take your baby out. I would assume that would apply on the Senate floor if it’s one baby or 50 babies.”