Dads of Congress Turn Capitol Into Day-Care Center During Vote Marathon

(Bloomberg) -- Moms tend to do the lion’s share of child care, but some male members of the US House of Representatives are pulling their weight this week as the chaotic vote for House Speaker has dragged for days.

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Democrats Jimmy Gomez of California and Joaquin Castro of Texas were among the members of Congress who brought their babies with them to a swearing-in ceremony for the 118th Congress that has yet to materialize. And since Tuesday, they’ve been candid about turning parts of the Capitol building into makeshift child-care rooms for their infant children, documenting bottle feeds, diaper changes and stroller walks.

Salud Carbajal, a Democrat from California, called the Democratic cloak room “a great spot for Congress-dads” to share advice when he posted a photo of Castro and Gomez with their children, Anna Valentina and Hodge, respectively.

Castro’s wife Anna and two other children joined him for Tuesday’s events, but he and Anna Valentina flew solo for part of Wednesday. The eight-month-old did well for the most part, Castro told Bloomberg News, but that he did have to change her on a bathroom floor at one point. He’s going to lobby for Congress to install baby-changing tables in the mens’ rooms following the experience “as soon as we get a speaker,” he said.

Gomez tweeted that the rest of his family went home on Thursday. “Hodge & I are just gonna figure this out like the rest of the working parents in America,” he wrote. California Republican Kevin McCarthy has not been able to secure enough support to be elected speaker after an historic 11 votes. The standoff enters its fourth day today.

Gomez said on Friday that his son will be staying with him in Washington while his wife, Mary Hodge, heads back to work in California. Hodge is Deputy Mayor of City Services for Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass.

“We always said that she wouldn't be the default parent,” Gomez said. “What we need to do is normalize the fact that dads can be the default parent or the primary caregiver and not necessarily just women. If we want a more equitable country, then that’s what we should try to do.”

Members of Congress bringing children and grandchildren to work isn’t unusual. Many members on both sides of the aisle invite family members for their swearing-in ceremonies. And in 2018, Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth’s newborn daughter made history when she accompanied her mother on the Senate floor for a vote, after a Senate rule change allowed her to be there.

Gomez told NBC News “it wasn’t a big deal” that he carried his son onto the House floor, but he hopes it helps normalize dads being caregivers in public. “I think it does send a powerful message that us guys need to do our part. We don’t risk our lives bringing children into the world — women do,” he said.

The exact number of working parents in Congress is hard to come by. But as of 2020, roughly 30% of representatives had children under 18, according to CNBC. Just 6% of people in the 117th Congress were moms with school-age kids — and only 14 dads used campaign funds for child care during the 2020 election cycle, according to Vote Mama Foundation, which analyzes the political participation of mothers.

More dads are opting out of the workforce to be the primary caregiver for their kids, though it’s still more common for moms to step back from work to care for kids. Since the pandemic an increasing number of parents, like the congressmen, have become all too familiar with juggling work and child care.

In recent years, Congress failed to pass both paid family leave and subsidized child-care. Castro, who has introduced several childcare measures himself, said the moms of Congress are “the strongest advocates for expanded and guaranteed parental leave and child-care services.”

(Updates with comments from Gomez in paragraphs 6 and 7.)

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