California Rep. Jimmy Gomez gained national attention as the House endured 15 votes to elect a speaker earlier this month, but not for how he was voting. It was for wearing his baby in the chamber as rounds went on for multiple days.
Gomez brought his infant son Hodge to witness the historical events unfold. A few weeks later, without a baby in hand, Gomez launched the Congressional Dads Caucus. While lawmakers have traditionally brought their children to witness the first days of a new Congress and many are parents, it's not often you see a baby on the House floor or a lawmaker wearing one, especially a dad.
Speaking at a press conference this week announcing the new group, Gomez said he thinks his son's appearance with him at his workplace "brought visibility to the role of working dads across the country."
"We want to show not just interest but advocacy on the issues that impact working parents," he said.
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Other lawmakers prior to Gomez have brought their young relatives with them to work. On one of Rep. Nancy Pelosi's first days as House speaker in 2007, her grandchildren arrived on the House floor along with her. In a memorable moment, she accepted a gavel from Rep. John Boehner with other lawmakers' children and grandchildren surrounding her. In 2018, the Senate voted unanimously to change its rules so Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth could bring her newborn daughter to a floor vote.
Women — even those in Congress — are often the ones who take on many parenting responsibilities. Surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center prior to the COVID-19 pandemic found that women were more likely than their spouses to say they carried more of the load when it came to parenting. In another Pew survey conducted in October 2020, a few months into the pandemic, working moms were more likely than working dads to say their work-life balance had gotten harder since the start of the pandemic.
"Dads need to do our part in advancing policies that will make a difference in the lives of so many parents across the country," Gomez said.
Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, who joined Gomez in forming the caucus, said men have a role to play in supporting policies that help working families.
"(Women legislators) deserve an extraordinary amount of credit, but they should also be able to count on male legislators to be partners in their fight from the beginning," Castro said.
"As a father to three young children, I'm looking forward to using this caucus to help achieve real solutions that have eluded us in the past."
Launched alongside other Democrats including Reps. Andy Kim and Dan Goldman, Gomez said the caucus will focus on key policy proposals like expanding the child tax credit, paid national family leave and child care program funding.
While baby Hodge missed the press conference, because he was back home in Los Angeles with his mom, Gomez tells NPR he and his wife are trying to make parenting work "the best we can, like other working parents." Gomez explained his family's day care situation, saying they have a caregiver coming three days a week, but they are still looking for help to cover the other two days of the workweek.
One key missing factor: bipartisanship
Many of the Dads Caucus policy proposals are also Democratic priorities, but after the November elections, Democrats lost control of the House.
"I haven't reached out to any Republicans yet," Gomez said, adding that he wanted to start with a core group of House Democrats. "We're going to invite more Democrats to join and they're going to have to reach out starting with some key committees."
He noted Ways and Means was one of the House committees where he wanted to target potential new members.
But he acknowledged the policy differences between Democrats and Republicans.
"I come from a school of thought that we are not going to wait for bipartisanship in order to start advocating on an issue," he said.
But without Republicans on board, it is unlikely any Democratic efforts will advance in the House.
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