Tammy Duckworth
Washington, DC CNN  — 

From working from home to daily Zoom calls, the last few months have changed for many mothers around the country who are now dealing with a different kind of business as usual.

This year’s Mother’s Day has taken on new meaning as families have had their daily lives upended by the coronavirus pandemic, and appreciation might have a different feel to it. Heading into the holiday, some single mothers this week shared their stories about the stress to feed, educate, comfort, discipline and make their children feel safe.

Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth sat down with CNN’s Dana Bash to discuss the challenges of motherhood while also working from home, and her children competing with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for attention.

Duckworth, along with her husband Bryan, are the parents of two daughters, Abigail and Maile. In 2018, after giving birth to Maile, Duckworth became the first senator to cast a vote on the Senate floor with her newborn by her side.

The two also discussed the senator’s work in providing money to parents who may have to go back to work before schools are open and childcare options are available. Duckworth, an Iraq War Veteran, also talked about the precautions she is taking and her work on pandemics in the US military.

A transcript of the Daily DC Podcast interview with Sen. Duckworth is below.

DB: That was Sen. Tammy Duckworth talking about her history-making moment back in 2018 when she became the first person to bring her infant onto the floor of the US Senate.

Not only that, she was the first US senator to give birth while serving in office. Hey, everybody, I’m Dana Bash, CNN’s chief political correspondent, in for David Chalian. And this is the Daily DC.

So this Sunday is Mother’s Day. And for many moms across the country, quarantine and social distancing may mean spending the day apart from their loved ones. For other moms, it means wearing even more hats than us moms usually do. So in honor of Mother’s Day and to highlight a truly badass woman, I’m excited to have Sen. Tammy Duckworth joining me to discuss governing, being a mom, being a homeschooler, all of those things.

Sen. Duckworth, thank you so much for joining me. I appreciate it.

TD: Oh, Dana. Thanks for having me on. And go, moms!

DB: Exactly. By the way, obviously nobody can see, but I’m wearing a shirt right now for this occasion that says #momlife in honor of Sen. Duckworth. So on that, let’s start with the new reality that so many parents, moms and dads are facing. You’re working. You are with your children. You are homeschooling or at least helping with distance learning. Now, that is true across the country for parents. You are in a unique situation because you’re a United States senator, so you’re also working for the people of Illinois. How’s it going?

TD: It’s rough. Well, what I mean to say, no matter how rough it is for me, it’s not as rough as a single mom who might be in a minimum wage job.

You know, it might be a cashier at a grocery store who has to show up for work, and now what does she do because there’s no childcare for her, and because the schools are out. But, yeah, it’s rough. I mean, this morning I came in, I had an Armed Services hearing, committee hearing. Came in, sat through that, then rushed back home so that I could be home for a 12:30 to 1:30 Zoom conference call with her school because she has a school class meeting every day. Got that done and then immediately turn around and got back in the car and came back to the Capitol and made it back just in time to vote. And, now I’m here with you, and once we’re done, I’m going to get back in the car and head back home, because it’ll be time to take over, because, you know, my childcare gets done at 6 o’clock. And so I’ve got to be there to take over.

DB: Ok, so let’s let’s talk about that a little bit. First of all, I should say, you have a 5-year-old named Abigail.

TD: Yes.

DB: You have a 2-year-old named Maile. And so you’re in it, I mean, you are in it. But you said that you do have childcare. How is that?

TD: I have childcare. And I’m very fortunate that my mother also lives with us, but my mom is 79 years old. So it’s tough, you’re right, because childcare is a precise schedule.

And when they’re done, you have to be there to accept the hand over back with your children. But, you know, for me, I’m there all the time to do the homeschooling, to make the dinner and do all of those things that needs to happen. And so it was always a juggle before being a full-time working mom working outside the home. But this has made it even that much harder.

DB: And so, are you staying home as much as you can? Obviously, this week is unique in that you, as a senator, are being asked to come into the office, which of course, is the United States Capitol. But before that, were you as home as much as you could be just for safety and social distancing purposes?

TD: Yes. So like most folks, we were social distancing. We were home. I was home full-time. But, of course, I was on conference calls as a senator. I, you know, can do anywhere from two to a dozen calls and conference calls in a day. In many ways, I feel like my schedule was busier now that we’re on, you know, staying at home, on quarantine. I’ll be on a call, and suddenly a 2-year-old is running past me, you know, because she doesn’t want to have her diaper put on and it’s like, naked baby butt running past on a Zoom conference call. It’s like, ‘oh, oops, sorry, folks.’ But you know, I’m at my dining room table, and this is just the way it has to be.

DB: Yeah. And everybody is so much more forgiving than we would be as a society, no matter if you’re a senator or not. Right? Just because I feel like everybody is in it. People get it. But you have a different situation. I mean, you have said, you said to one of my colleagues, I think earlier last month that you’ve got the Armed Services Committee in one ear, you’re trying to Zoom in another with 24 5-year-olds for your daughter’s, for Abigail’s class. What’s it like?

TD: It’s crazy. I mean, literally, she has four Zoom conference calls a week, Monday through Friday.

DB: Is this Kindergarten?

TD: This is pre-K. Can you believe that? This is pre-K.

DB: How many Zoom calls?

TD: Four.

DB: For pre-K?

TD: Four. For pre-K. Because they’re doing distance learning, and so, I mean, that’s wonderful because you don’t want them to regress. But even with the regular meetings, I feel like she’s regressing a little, you know.

DB: I do.

TD: I do. And it terrifies me. And so like today, when I had to be in for the Armed Services hearing my staff’s like, can you just stay in and finish off that day? And then, you know, I said, no, I can’t miss the Zoom conference call. I, you know, she’s going to miss 2+5=7. And then it’s on me because I was a bad mom that I wasn’t there to help her keep up. Right?

DB: Ah, it’s like a dagger in the heart. Right?

TD: It is so. Society might be more forgiving, and people on the Zoom conference calls might be more forgiving, but in some ways, I think we moms are even harder on ourselves.

DB: Yeah. I mean, so I have a son who will be nine next month. And, I think about the fact that I’m so lucky because he can manage the iPad and the app that he has to use for his classes pretty much on his own. I will get a text from the iPad about six to seven times a day from his quote-unquote classroom, which is his playroom. Mom, I need your help. Mom, I need you. Mom, I need you. So, you know, you run up and down the stairs, but it’s not the same as a little kid like you have. Not to mention the 2-year-old. So, you’re doing everything you need to do and potty training at the same time. Right?

TD: Well, exactly. And they see me home. So it’s wonderful. They’re like, “Mommy is here. And we get Mom all the time. But why isn’t mom paying attention to us?” Well, Mom’s, you know, on a Democratic caucus call listening to Chuck Schumer.

DB: Who cries more? Your kids or Chuck Schumer? I’m kidding.

TD: Ah, me, me, me.

DB: Oh, my goodness. So I want to talk about how this relates to your job as a policymaker. Right? And as a legislator.

Because you tweeted this weekend an article from The Nation about how difficult it is going to be for parents, moms, and dads, to get back to work in a real way when and if there is no school or real childcare. And you tweeted, “If it’s not reasonable to open up the schools and it’s not reasonable to greenlight summer camp, then it’s not reasonable to reopen the hair salon and for some working mother to spend more money on childcare than she’ll make from her day at work.” How are you as a member of Congress, as a senator, thinking about dealing with this reality as part of the Covid response?

TD: All right. Well, you know, it’s impossible choices that workers are being put in. So this is about childcare. It’s also about, you know, though, all those workers in the meatpacking plants that are told, you better go back to work, and you and you don’t have a choice if you don’t show up like that. If that working mom doesn’t show up for work, then you’ve quit, and if you’ve quit, now you don’t qualify for unemployment insurance. And she can’t afford to go back to work because she can’t afford the childcare to take care of her children.

And so we put these parents into just these impossible choices. Some of the things that I’m working on for first responders and for essential workers, and by essential workers, I mean, of course, our heroic doctors and nurses and firefighters and all that. But, also, our heroic grocery store checkout cashiers and our janitors who work in those hospitals and all of those, and the people who drive our public buses to people in minimum wage jobs. The person who keeps me supplied with my McDonald’s chicken nuggets for my daughter, you know. They have to show up to work. And so, I’m working to provide for additional funds, on top of their salary. And then in a worst case scenario, for those who do catch Covid-19 and pass away as a result of their job because they caught it on the job, a compensation fund for their survivors.

Bottom line, we need some things in this country that we’ve been fighting for a long time. We need universal paid family leave. We need childcare. We need universal pre-K. All of those things need to happen.

DB: So money is one of them, but you just alluded to this in the end of that answer. There’s structural, really big structural things that are missing for parents, for moms, for dads to be able to cope. You know, even if they get money for childcare. You know, not everybody can afford a nanny, so daycare centers may not even be open. It might not be an actual option.

TD: That’s exactly right, Dana. It might not actually be an option where you can actually take your child and take them to a daycare center. You may not be able to get a nanny to come to your home. I know folks who are thinking about doing group childcare. But that’s dangerous, right? I mean, why why would we expose children to this – this global pandemic that is literally killing, I mean, here in the US, over 60,000 individuals already. Why would we do that to ourselves?

And by the way, the people most affected by this are the people who are working those minimum wage jobs, who end up being the people who take care of our parents in the nursing homes, who make sure that our hospital rooms are clean, who make sure that they are handling our food when we get takeout. It’s in our best interest, no matter what socio-economic spectrum you’re in to watch out for all of us because we’re in this together. And if we just watch out only for the people who can afford childcare and forget about the working families, then eventually it’s going to come back to affect all of us because then we will catch this epidemic because people cannot afford to not go to work and they won’t go to work when they’re sick.

DB: Before I let you go, you mentioned that your mom is living with you as well, which is a nice thing to have in any case, but particularly as you’re going to be celebrating Mother’s Day, as I mentioned at the top, there are a lot of people who aren’t able to be with their moms or moms able to be with their kids because they’re social distancing. How do you plan to kind of take advantage of the fact that you have the luxury of being with your mom and being with your kids as a mom this Sunday?

TD: Yeah, so I’m like a lot of Gen-X women. We’re the sandwich generation, I’m taking care of my elderly parent, and I’m taking care of young kids at the same time. And, you know, we talk about childcare, but then also you have to worry about your elderly parents, as well, and the stresses from that. I’m going to take my girls and we’re probably going to bake some cupcakes or something, and I’ll call it that chemistry class from homeschooling. Yeah, or maybe I’ll call it math class because she’s measuring flour or sugar or something.

DB: Listen, it’s real, it works.

TD: Yeah, exactly. But, I am fortunate that my mom is with us because she can step up. And she’s great with doing that. And, I have that luxury of my mom being there. But then I also have, you know, I’m also handling my mom’s doctor’s appointments. I’m also handling helping her with her finances, you know, and making sure that she’s well. And, you know, as I go back in and out of the Senate, I worry that I’m taking back this pandemic.

DB: So that was the other thing I was going to ask. How are you keeping as safe as you possibly can going into a building where people have flown in from all over the country on planes and staffers and staffers, senators, everybody who works in the Capitol and in the office buildings?

TD: So, you know, one of the last things that I did in the Army before I retired in 2014 was I actually gave briefings on global pandemics at the Pentagon.

DB: Are you kidding me?

TD: No, I’m not kidding you. Because at the time, we were dealing with SARS and H1N1. And so that was one of my last Army last projects.

DB: I feel like we buried the lede here.

TD: So here is what I’ve done. And I actually have very shallow trays from the wintertime that you use to catch the snow falling off your boots outside my house. I’ve got those filled with a little bit of water and some Clorox in them, a half a cup of Clorox, which is what we do with Ebola and what we tell people to do, where you would step in those. And then foot and mouth disease, mad cow disease, all of that.

So I have that into the entrances of all of my home. We wipe down everything, which is a mixture of water and Clorox before it comes into the house. I wear the mask with the gloves, and I have my wheelchair, which picks up all sorts of dirt. So I wipe that down in the garage. I actually have an indoor wheelchair and an outdoor wheelchair now so I take the outdoor wheelchair that’s only use outside and it doesn’t go back into the house. It doesn’t pick anything up.

But I have that luxury right, to have that privilege that the American people through the VA has provided me with two wheelchairs. A lot of disabled people don’t have that. They have to use the same wheelchair. Now you’re tracking the disease into the house, potentially.

When I get home, the first thing, I do is I head back straight into the shower and take a shower and, you know, try to just decontaminate as much as possible, because, again, I live with a 2-year-old, a 5-year-old, and my mom is 79 years old. I mean, I live with a vulnerable population. So when we ask these women, working moms, to go back to work, you know, they have childcare, and then they are also many cases take watching out for their elderly parents as well.

And they live in multi-generational homes because that’s all you can afford. And this disease spreads very easily in multi-generational homes. And we just you know, so as we move forward with reopening the economy, one of the things I’m insisting on is widespread and free testing, because if testing is in a cost of 60 bucks and you’re forcing women to go back to work at their jobs and who can’t afford childcare, what makes you think they made it to 50 bucks for a test.

DB: I get that? I know you’re busy. You’ve got to get home to that Zoom call. Happy, happy Mother’s Day. Happy birthday from us to your mom, please. And thank you for all that you do. I appreciate it.

TD: Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day to you too, Dana.

DB: Sen. Duckworth, thank you so much for joining me, and a special thanks to our listeners as well.