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Senate Expected To Sign Off On Paid Family Leave

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Next week, the Senate is expected to sign off on a defense bill that has a sweeping policy change tucked inside. It's going to provide 12 weeks of paid parental leave to federal employees. This is something President Trump's daughter Ivanka has been pushing. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith has the story.

TAMARA KEITH: It's not a surprise that Carolyn Maloney, the Democratic congresswoman from New York, would celebrate a deal securing paid parental leave for federal employees.

CAROLYN MALONEY: When I was expecting my first child, I went to the personnel office and asked them what their leave policies were. They said, leave policy? We just expect you to leave.

KEITH: She's been working to get this thing passed for 20 years. But President Trump is declaring victory, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And as a candidate for president, I pledged to advance paid family leave. With this important step, we are delivering. And we're really delivering like nobody's, I think, ever delivered before.

KEITH: He was speaking yesterday at a White House summit on child care and paid family leave led by his daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: I had a very busy time and a very busy day. And my daughter said, you will be here. So...

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: ...That was the end of that busy day, right?

KEITH: The federal government is the largest employer in the country. But in the private sector, many companies don't offer paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child. And many of those that do don't give a full 12 weeks paid. In an interview with NPR, Ivanka Trump said she sees paid leave for federal workers as a first big step.

IVANKA TRUMP: It's very hard for people to say, well, employers should provide this benefit - if we are unwilling to provide it ourselves. So you have to lead by example.

KEITH: Many Republican lawmakers oppose the parental leave provision in the defense bill, but there's nothing they can do about it. Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, has been vocal with his displeasure, saying taxpayers shouldn't be paying for federal workers to get these benefits.

RON JOHNSON: This really does require a lot more thought. So I just have serious concerns. But in the end, you know, President Trump should get full credit for this because he's the one who made it happen. I know the Democrats won in the House, but this would not have happened had not President Trump strongly supported it.

KEITH: And so, because it's in the defense bill, Johnson says he'll end up voting for it next week. It's another example of the Republican Party becoming the party of Trump, accepting something that has not traditionally been a Republican priority. In the case of paid parental leave, Ivanka Trump says it has taken a lot of private persuasion.

I TRUMP: And spent a lot of time just talking through why this made sense.

KEITH: But in her conversations with Republican lawmakers, Ivanka Trump says she's seen a dramatic shift. She remembers the first time the president brought it up in a speech to Congress in 2017.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: To help ensure new parents that they have paid family leave.

(APPLAUSE)

I TRUMP: And I think one Republican stood.

KEITH: It was more than one but certainly not all of them. And they were slow and tentative with their applause.

I TRUMP: And they looked at each other sort of confused as to whether or not they were supposed to. And the difference between that and last year when he mentioned it, and everyone was on their feet - so he's moved the needle tremendously.

KEITH: Now, getting from paid parental leave for federal workers to a national program involving the private sector is a bigger lift. And the ideas from Democrats and Republicans about how to do it are vastly different. But paid family leave polls really well. So the politics are good for both parties. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.