Several Republicans senators and White House officials met on Capitol Hill on Wednesday morning to develop a pathway forward on a paid family leave plan, a top priority of President Donald Trump and an opportunity for a bipartisan populist victory for both sides in politics.
A Senate GOP aide told Breitbart News that Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), a Louisiana Republican who is currently drafting legislation to address the issue, hosted Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Todd Young (R-IN), as well as Trump’s daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, to discuss a pathway forward on paid family leave.
“This meeting was scheduled a week ago and will bring together key members of the Senate who are pushing to make progress this year on a proposal that has unified Republican support,” the Senate GOP aide told Breitbart News.
It was put on the calendar in the wake of President Trump’s State of the Union address, where the president became the first president of either party to endorse a paid family leave program in his budget:
"I am also proud to be the first President to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave—so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child." —President @realDonaldTrump— The White House (@WhiteHouse) February 6, 2019
In response to that State of the Union announcement on paid family leave, Sen. Cassidy confirmed he is, indeed, working on a plan to this effect:
Last year, Cassidy chaired a Senate hearing on the issue as well and released a video afterwards highlighting the issue:
In a joint release with the other meeting attendees, Sen. Cassidy said he is focused on finding a solution that is fiscally responsible.
“There is widespread interest in helping moms and dads have the financial flexibility they need to raise children. The key will be crafting a policy that is fiscally sustainable, targeted, and doesn’t bury taxpayers in even more red ink,” Cassidy said in a statement. “We’re going to work hard in my committee to craft a good, bipartisan solution that empowers families to succeed. This is pro-family, pro-baby, pro-mama.”
“As a mother, I understand firsthand how important it is for our policies to reflect the evolving needs of our workforce and to reduce the barriers imposed on parents who are balancing family and work,” Ernst said, adding:
In his State of the Union address, the president made it clear that paid family leave is a priority for his administration. That’s why I am all the more encouraged to continue working with my colleagues, and the administration, to create a path forward for a voluntary, budget-neutral, child-focused paid leave program rather than impose a new entitlement or mandate.
Ivanka Trump also weighed in, saying the conversation with senators was productive.
“Today we had a productive conversation about paid family leave policy focused on the bipartisan desire to find a solution that supports American workers and families,” Ivanka Trump said. “We are seeking to build consensus around policy that can garner enough votes to be passed into law and thank the Senators on both sides of the aisle who are working together towards that goal.”
Sens. Rubio and Lee also weighed in, praising the beginning of the discussions.
“I commend the White House for continuing to show leadership and making it clear that paid family leave is a priority for this Administration,” Rubio said. He continued:
I am honored to participate in the ongoing, substantive discussion about how best to implement this policy and committed to seeing this effort through. Too many new parents, especially those with low incomes, take on new debt or fall onto welfare programs just to pay for their basic living costs after having a child. It is time to take action.
“Families are the foundation of our country, yet our tax and entitlement systems penalize parents and growing families. If young people can’t afford to form a household and have children then the very future of our nation is in jeopardy,” Lee stated, adding:
It was great to hear President Trump mention this issue in the State of the Union and the continued interest of Senior Adviser Ivanka Trump is a fantastic sign. I look forward to working with the WH and my Senate colleagues to identify ways we can reform federal government policies to help solve this problem.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said, too, that paid family leave is an important issue.
“Most parents today work outside the home and childcare costs are a burden for many families. The first months of life are a critical period for newborns. We should take a look at any policy that might help in their development,” Grassley said. “It’s been several decades since we’ve updated federal family leave laws. I look forward to working with my colleagues in both parties to explore new ideas.”
Republicans are not the only ones interested in pushing this issue forward. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a 2020 Democrat presidential candidate, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced a bill this week on paid family leave.
The halls of Congress are not the only places where actual left-right populist bipartisanship is happening regarding this issue. One of the major groups pushing for a paid family leave program, PL+US, has highlighted recent efforts on its behalf by its vice president of legislative affairs, Andrea Zuniga, and her husband, Garrett Murch. Zuniga, a Democrat who has worked for the AFL-CIO and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Murch, a Republican who spent years working for Jeff Sessions in the U.S. Senate and later for now Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham, wrote a joint op-ed in the Bangor Daily News in their home state of Maine, where they made the case for the program.
In response to the Cassidy-led GOP meeting on Wednesday, Zuniga issued a statement praising the effort.
“An overwhelming majority of people in the US support paid family leave so it’s not surprising that lawmakers across the political spectrum see a real opportunity to move national legislation forward this Congress,” Zuniga said in the press release, which continued:
As Congress gets to work hashing out the details of these policies, they must put the real needs of working families at the heart of their proposed solutions. Bipartisanship is not about splitting the difference, but about taking the best ideas of all parties to improve lives. Today’s families aren’t just struggling from the financial stress of welcoming a new child, but also caring for themselves or a loved one through a serious illness. In today’s divisive time, we look forward to working with political leaders from both sides of the aisle on bold, comprehensive legislation that works for working families.
The issue is extraordinarily popular across the partisan divide. Polling that the PL+US organization released shows that 94 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Republicans, and 83 percent of independents support some kind of paid family leave deal. Several major companies like Deloitte, IBM, Microsoft, General Electric, and Levi Strauss & Co., among others, support the policy, too.
As the legislative process develops, while there is broad support for the general idea of a national paid family leave program, lawmakers will need to zone in on several areas–including how to do such a program that does not hurt small and mid-sized businesses, as well as how to pay for such a program. Bigger companies tend to be able to afford such benefits programs, and the ability to have some of their employees off for extended periods while still being paid, so these are questions that aides on Capitol Hill close to the process on both sides told Breitbart News still need to be answered.
Adrienne Schweer, a fellow with the Bipartisan Policy Center, who leads the group’s paid family leave task force, told Breitbart News that this issue is one that can unite Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill.
“Paid family leave is an issue where every part of this new divided government can agree and get something done for hard-working American families,” Schweer said in an email. “The President has been pushing for paid family leave since the presidential primary and was the first president to include it in the budget and mention it in the State of the Union address. The Republican Senate has already shown support for the issue, as they included a pilot program in the 2017 tax reform package. And over 150 Democrats in the House have already shown support for a federal program by cosponsoring some form of paid family leave legislation.”
Schweer added that this issue aligns perfectly with Trump’s focus on the working class.
“What our President has harnessed more than any Republican before him is a focus on working family issues, and today’s working parents are struggling to make ends meet,” Schweer told Breitbart News. “The vast majority of Americans support paid family leave, and they are calling for federal action. We think there is potential for the President to work with the new Congress on meaningful bipartisan paid family leave legislation.”
Outside of the policy benefits of this kind of a deal, the political ramifications are enormous. It was one of the main promises Trump made to the working and middle class on the campaign trail in 2016 as he rolled out a plan to implement a national paid family leave program in Pennsylvania with his daughter Ivanka Trump at his side.
In an exclusive interview with Breitbart News there in Aston, Pennsylvania, in September 2016–less than a couple months before Trump became the first Republican since George H.W. Bush in 1988 to win the state–Ivanka Trump laid out her father’s vision on paid family leave:
The cost of childcare has actually soared in this past decade and it’s become completely unaffordable but also not overtly flexible and accessible. So if you go to rural communities, the bias toward institutional care doesn’t help you because there’s no access to institutional daycare centers. So creating a more dynamic, free market for care services and lifting a lot of the regulations and restrictions that are stymying entrepreneurs in that space will be enormously beneficial to everyone and hopefully dramatically bring the cost of childcare down and provide a lot more option. But one of the things I’m very excited about in this plan is that in revising the tax code we’re going to recognize the hard work being done by stay at home parents who are caregivers and make it a tax neutral decision. It doesn’t penalize them. It gives them the recognition that they deserve for doing very real and very hard work in the context of their homes—so in other words a person can decide if it’s in the best interest of their family to work or stay at home and raise their children.
Trump, in the speech where he was flanked by Ivanka, laid out the vision he had regarding this issue. Here is the full video of that campaign event, where several GOP women, including now-Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)–then a U.S. House member–also spoke:
It remains to be seen where this issue goes from here, but there is a chance at a real populist bipartisan outcome on paid family leave. Ultimately, with Republicans, especially the Trump White House, leading the charge on pushing for this, the question is if enough Democrats will work with Republicans to get a solution across the finish line–and the real variable may be whether or not Democrats are okay with Trump getting a win on this.