If Donald Trump really wants to guarantee paid maternity leave for working women, he’s going to need to convince his fellow Republicans to break from the party line and get onboard.
And he should probably start with his own running mate.
On Tuesday, the Trump campaign said that a President Trump would make sure that new mothers get at least six weeks of paid leave after having a child. Such a plan would find widespread support among the general public. Unlike workers in every other industrialized country, U.S. workers are now assured only 12 weeks of unpaid family leave, and the law carves out many workers from even those modest protections.
Although Trump’s plan is light on details so far, it’s clear that what he has in mind is close to what Democrats have traditionally put forth: a kind of social insurance program that assures mothers can spend time with their newborns without taking a financial hit. (Notably, Trump’s plan does not include a paternity leave component for men, which presents its own problems for women.) The campaign may be hoping that such a proposal could increase Trump’s appeal among women voters, a demographic where his poll numbers have been dismal.
But Republicans have opposed such proposals in the past when they’ve been put forth by Democrats, and they have also blocked efforts to expand the unpaid leave protections already in place. According to the traditional GOP line, if a family leave plan requires businesses to help foot the bill, then it’s a job killer. And if it compels the government to spend money, then it burdens taxpayers.
Trump’s choice for vice president, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, must be having a change of heart when it comes to family leave. In his time in Congress from 2001 to 2012, Pence appears to have been no different from the majority of GOP office-holders on this front. When he had the opportunity to support a stronger family leave law, he either declined to back it or voted against it.
When House Democrats proposed a national paid leave law in 2008 and again in 2009, it did not enjoy Pence’s backing. Nor did the Democratic proposal, introduced session after session, to guarantee workers paid sick days.
“Mike Pence is no fan of paid leave as far as I know,” said Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, which has been tracking paid leave laws for years.
In fact, Pence did not support even narrow expansions of family leave, be it paid or unpaid.
While Pence was in Congress, Democrats tried to expand the unpaid leave law already on the books. The Family and Medical Leave Act only covers businesses with at least 50 employees. That carves out a lot of workers who are employed by small businesses. Over the years, Democrats have tried to put more workplaces under the law in order to guarantee unpaid leave for more workers. Pence, however, did not join as a co-sponsor on the bills, which never made it into law.
Democrats also tried to pass a paid family leave guarantee for federal employees, who only enjoy unpaid leave, while Pence was in Congress. (Federal workers only have unpaid family leave, and they’re encouraged to use paid sick days after having a child.) In 2008, a measure providing four weeks of paid leave to federal employees made it to the floor and actually passed, though not with Pence’s help. He voted against it. Notably, 50 of Pence’s Republican colleagues crossed the aisle to join Democrats on the family-friendly measure. (The measure never passed the Senate, and federal workers still have no paid leave guarantee.)
In 2009, Democrats made another run at the same measure. This time, they peeled off 24 Republicans to support it. Politico reported on the hint of support for paid leave on the GOP side, writing that House Republicans had found “a novel way to rid themselves of the Democrats’ ‘party of no’ label.”
But the show of bipartisanship didn’t include Pence that time, either. He still voted no.