They're bringing the pitter-patter of little feet to the corridors of power Representive Parents

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Washington -- Rep. Enid Greene Waldholtz plods through the Capitol clutching a leather folder to her chest. It sort of disguises her shape, but mostly helps fend off the inevitable tummy-patters.

With her pregnancy just about reaching full bloom, the 36-year-old freshman Republican from Utah is struggling to maintain her dignity and play down the novelty of her condition in a world still overwhelmingly male.

Things couldn't be more different for another member of the Utah delegation, Rep. Bill Orton, a first-time father who doesn't have any qualms about flaunting his new role as a parent. He shows up at work pushing his 3-month-old around in a stroller and wearing a Mickey Mouse pacifier clipped to his lapel.

In the self-proclaimed "family friendly" Congress, Mr. Orton and Mrs. Waldholtz are the most visible symbols of a new era. But they also validate the adage that -- in gender relations at least -- the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Mr. Orton knows he can get away with flouting tradition with his Mr. Mom performance. Mrs. Waldholtz knows she can't.

She was deeply embarrassed the other day when her swollen feet would fit only into oversized white sneakers that seemed to glow beneath her demure navy dress like giant clown shoes. No assurances from her sister lawmakers could persuade Mrs. Waldholtz to succumb to this comfort. She immediately ordered all new footwear: dark-colored pumps wide enough to go the distance.

A no-nonsense member of the important Rules Committee, Mrs. Waldholtz tries to ignore it as many of her colleagues develop that fumbling awkwardness pregnancy seems to inspire.

"It's kind of a humanizing element," she says. "I just use it as a way to get into discussions about other issues."

She wants people on Capitol Hill to think of her as a lawmaker, not a mother. She doesn't plan to bring her baby to the office, except for occasional visits or slow Friday afternoons. And her determination to maintain a business-as-usual air seems to be having the desired effect.

"You'd never know she was pregnant except from looking at her," says Rules Committee chairman Gerald Solomon in a comment he intends as a compliment.

If it sounds like Mr. Solomon hasn't had much experience dealing with pregnant colleagues, it's because he hasn't. Mrs. Waldholtz, a former businesswoman and corporate lawyer who married a Republican activist two years ago, is only the second House member ever to bear a child in office -- and the first in two decades.

"I think this demonstrates that Congress is starting to be more reflective of society as a whole, not only in gender but age as well," says Mrs. Waldholtz, who was elected last year in the crush of 87 newcomers -- most younger than 45. "It won't be another 20 years before we have the next pregnant member."

The transformation is coming slowly. The House is still nearly 90 percent male, and the average age is 51, a little older than was the case 20 years ago.

But Mr. Orton, a three-term Democrat, says the change is more a matter of attitude.

"I think we're catching up with what the rest of the country is doing," he says. "We're recognizing the importance of parenting, and we're putting a priority on that."

The congressional culture clearly has evolved since then-Rep. Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, now a member of the Los Angeles NTC County Board of Supervisors, became in 1974 the first pregnant House member.

When she learned of Mrs. Waldholtz's pregnancy, Mrs. Burke had this advice: "Introduce all the bills you want to because everyone will be afraid to debate you."

"I don't think that's true now," Mrs. Waldholtz says. Concern for her condition cools, she says, when discussion of issues gets hot.

Pregnancy and power

But pregnancy and power still don't mix all that well. The reaction to Mrs. Waldholtz' impending motherhood has been a little disturbing to Rep. Susan Molinari, 37. She recently married fellow New York Republican Bill Paxton and is contemplating starting a family of her own.

"I just don't think they should be slapping her on the stomach," Ms. Molinari says of her fellow House members. "But that happens everywhere."

With her baby due Sept. 21 -- just as the House is scheduled to take up major budget legislation -- Mrs. Waldholtz is determined not to miss votes or committee work until she absolutely has to.

When the House was kept in a rare overnight session several weeks ago by Democrats demanding a series of procedural votes, the congresswoman waited between roll calls in a tiny hideaway in the basement of the Capitol where former Speaker Thomas S. Foley used to listen to his stereo when he was House Majority Whip.

The hideaway was close enough to avoid walks to her office on the fifth floor of the Cannon building but too small for her to stretch out, as some men were doing in the lounges off the House floor.

"The last thing she wants is for anyone to think she's being treated differently because she's pregnant," says Kate Watson, the congresswoman's press secretary.

Meanwhile, Mr. Orton is rewriting the rules on being a congressional father.

Over the years, many lawmakers have brought children or grandchildren to visit the Capitol -- especially on ceremonial occasions, such as opening day of a new term.

But Mr. Orton has startled his colleagues by bringing 3-month-old Will to work with him twice a week -- not because of day care problems but simply because he wants to spend as much time with his son as he can.

Mr. Orton, 46, pushes the baby in a stroller between his office and committee meetings, and takes him onto the House floor for votes. He feeds the baby a bottle while talking on the phone, burps him while meeting with constituents and changes his diapers between appointments.

Will is becoming such a fixture, he's even been spotted making the rounds of evening political receptions. When he's tired or the lights are too bright, the baby buries his face in the crook of his

daddy's arm.

Some don't approve

These scenes are a bit too precious for some of Mr. Orton's colleagues, one of whom made a gagging gesture for a reporter to convey his reaction.

"I'm sure there are people who think it's unprofessional for me to have my child here," Mr. Orton says. "But he's my most important priority. If it gets to the point where I can't do my congressional job and at the same time take care of my child, then I'll leave Congress and go back to my private life and take care of my child."

As a tax attorney with a one-man practice, Mr. Orton has that option.

"But it is not the reality for most families," says Rep. Patricia Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat. She contends both Utah lawmakers are taking advantage of a lifestyle that, despite the long hours, is still more pampered than most Americans enjoy.

The fact is that neither Mrs. Waldholtz nor Mr. Orton could make their parenthood ventures work if it weren't for their spouses, who are nearly always at their disposal.

Joe Waldholtz, former executive director of the Utah Republican Party, works without pay on his wife's congressional staff. He sits at a desk outside her private office with three other aides.

Mr. Waldholtz' role seems to be that of all around trouble-shooter, but mostly he looks after his wife in a very personal way.

He makes sure she's fed and rested. He brings the car around to pick her up if they have somewhere to go. They walk hand in hand through the basement of the Capitol to the medical office, where he gets allergy shots and she gets impromptu checkups.

"He's been an incredibly good sport," Mrs. Waldholtz says of her husband.

Jacquelyn Orton, 30, was a lobbyist when she and the congressman were married last year. Now she's a full-time mother, except for Tuesdays and Thursdays, when Mr. Orton takes Will to work.

But even on those days, which she generally uses to run errands, Mrs. Orton is never too far away to fetch her son if need be.

Some backup

"He's got someone waiting to take the baby when he's tired of it, or it's cranky, or it's dirty," says Rep. Barbara Cubin, a freshman Republican from Wyoming. "You can't tell me those things don't bother him like they bother everyone else."

Mrs. Cubin, whose doctor-husband and two grown sons spend most of their time back in Wyoming, also rejects the notion that Congress is now, or could ever be, family friendly.

"My congressional life is going well, but my personal life is in a shambles," she says. "It's very lonely for me."

As for Mrs. Waldholtz, she says she's going into motherhood in the House with no romantic illusions.

"This is not a 9-to-5 job and never will be," she says. "It's up to each member, each family, each office to figure out what works for them. You've got to be sensitive to the situation and realize that as much as you may want to keep your child with you all the time, that would not be appropriate in every setting here . . . This is a crazy way to live."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
18°