How Closely Did GOP Women Really Work With Trump on Paid Leave?

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How Closely Did GOP Women Really Work With Trump on Paid Leave?

Christine Grimaldi

Cracks have emerged in the otherwise unified front GOP women lawmakers displayed at a Trump rally where the presidential candidate's child-care plans were unveiled.

GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump recently acknowledged Republican women serving in the U.S. House of Representatives for helping him craft ostensibly family-friendly proposals aimed at drawing moms to the polls.

Based on the reactions of those legislators, they either don’t want to share the credit or can’t identify their own proposals among Trump’s.

Trump unveiled the proposals at a September 13 campaign rally, thanking Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), chair of the House Republican Conference, “and a mother of three small children who has been such a leader and who worked so hard with us.” He then called “some amazing members of Congress”—Republican Reps. Marsha Blackburn (TN), Diane Black (TN), Cynthia Lummis (WY), Vicky Hartzler (MO), and Renee Ellmers (NC)—to the stage.

“They worked so hard on this,” he said.

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Trump would provide six weeks of paid maternity leave as part of his child-care platform, rather than differentiating between paid leave and child-care proposals. The proposal fails to extend such benefits to new fathers or allow workers paid time off to deal with their own health or that of a sick family member.

Trump has yet to specify the wage-replacement rate for eligible participants beyond a campaign fact sheet that states the “benefit would only equal what would be paid to a laid-off employee, which is much less than a workers’ [sic] regular paycheck.”

Trump’s maternity leave plan has come under subsequent scrutiny for potentially excluding single mothers and adoptive parents in same-sex relationships, even as Ivanka Trump, the candidate’s daughter and adviser on child care and other campaign issues, defended it in a contentious interview with Cosmopolitan. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has detailed separate policy proposals for up to 12 weeks of paid family and sick leave, as well as child care.

Cracks almost immediately emerged in the otherwise unified front the GOP women displayed at the Trump rally.

Trump’s tax cuts for child care were the only part of the plan that drew support from Black, the Wall Street Journal reported a day after his announcement. Black “wants to see more businesses adopt paid-leave policies, but she does not support mandates to this effect at the federal level,” a spokesperson told the newspaper.

Rewire contacted McMorris Rodgers’, Blackburn’s, Black’s, Ellmers’, Lummis’, and Hartzler’s offices for details on how the lawmakers helped to shape Trump’s plan. Did the plan represent a coordinated effort among Republican women in Congress? What specific policies did the women propose, and what did and did not make it into the candidate’s plan?

GOP Women Short on Specifics

McMorris Rodgers’, Black’s, and Lummis’ offices ignored repeated press inquiries.

Blackburn’s and Ellmers’ offices responded but did not provide specifics.

“Congressman Blackburn gives credit to House conference for sharing flex time and child care policies they have worked on during past years,” a spokesperson said in an email. “They wanted to find a way to use the tax code and not mandates to implement the plan.”

An Ellmers aide would not deconstruct the plan “line by line,” but confirmed that “it was a collective effort between the Republican women, Ivanka Trump, and the nominee.”

“Mr. Trump is showing that he is listening to conservative women to provide real solutions that help women and their families thrive,” the aide said. “Congresswoman Ellmers supports the plan in full and is excited that the Republican party is addressing these issues head-on. She is looking forward to continuing her work with the campaign on these and other issues.”

Ellmers, who threw her support behind Trump early on in the Republican primary contest, lost her primary in June after anti-choice groups targeted her for merely expressing concern that a congressional 20-week abortion ban would have required rape victims to formally report their assaults to the police in order to receive exemptions. Ellmers eventually voted last year for the House’s “disgustingly cruel” ban, similarly onerous rape and incest exceptions included.

Though Hartzler’s office declined to comment, Rewire on September 20 interviewed the three-term lawmaker, who serves on Blackburn’s “McCarthyesque” anti-abortion investigation, after she and more than a dozen other congressional GOP women met with Ivanka Trump at the Republican National Committee’s headquarters near Capitol Hill.

The meeting occurred a day after Ivanka Trump met with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in New York.

Hartzler told Rewire that she supported Trump’s “pro-family plan” in full, particularly a tax savings account for child and elder care that she said would help moms at home and in the workplace.

“There was input through—Cathy McMorris Rodgers pulled together a lot of the initiatives from different members and has been visiting with Ivanka and the Donald Trump campaign,” she said, deferring policy specifics to the GOP conference chair.

Though Hartzler said the issue of expanding paid leave benefits to fathers didn’t arise during the meeting with Ivanka Trump, she said the benefits for “stay-at-home moms could be for stay-at-home dads as well.”

“I think the plan has a lot to do with the principle of flexibility and empowering families and so, I think that’s something that will probably be talked about or viewed supportive[ly],” she said.

Plan Pulls From Questionable Sources

Both Hartzler and Blackburn, who separately spoke to reporters after the meeting, echoed a factually inaccurate Trump claim that Clinton has no child-care plan.

Clinton in May promised to cap costs at 10 percent of a family’s income and to implement a program to address the low wages faced by many who work in the child-care industry. Child care has been a component of other policy platforms put out by the Democratic nominee’s campaign, including her plans for early childhood education.

The origins of Trump’s paid leave component stumped advocates in the field.

“In terms of where he got the ideas, I really don’t know. They look different than what Republicans have proposed in Congress,” Vicki Shabo, vice president at the National Partnership for Women & Families Action Fund, said in an interview with Rewire.

Trump’s plan resembles neither Republicans’ Working Families Flexibility Act (H.R. 465, S. 233), which the group has called an “empty promise” that would erode overtime pay, nor former presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) proposed tax credit for employers that provides at least four weeks of paid family and medical leave, based on the Strong Families Act (S. 2354).

Both proposals are emblematic of a recent conservative push for paid leave—no matter how problematic.

“He chose this other approach, which I think is interesting only insofar [in] that suggests that there is some role for public programs and public funding for at least one piece of paid leave,” Shabo said of Trump.

One thing was clear to Shabo: “His plan is deeply, deeply flawed, and could well do more harm than good.”

Congressional Democrats Voice Opposition

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (MD), the second-highest ranking Democrat in the House, characterized Trump’s approach to parental leave as “the wrong approach for families.”

“His plan leaves out fathers altogether, it short-changes mothers, and his numbers don’t add up,” Hoyer told Rewire in an email. “Mr. Trump’s proposal certainly doesn’t come close to that offered by Secretary Clinton, who has a real plan to provide twelve-week paid parental leave that is fully paid-for.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), an advocate for paid family leave legislation, is at a minimum pleased that the issue has emerged in the presidential election. “She thinks Donald Trump’s plan falls woefully short,” a spokesperson told Rewire in an email.

“She’s supporting Hillary Clinton not only because her plan is better, but also because she will actually work to make paid a leave a reality as president,” the spokesperson said.

Clinton’s plan closely mirrors Gillibrand’s Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act mandating guaranteed paid family leave at two-thirds of an employee’s salary for up to 12 weeks to care for a new child or a sick family member. To pay for the plan, Gillibrand proposed the equivalent of a $1.38 payroll tax increase that former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) backed.

Clinton has advocated tax increases for the “wealthiest Americans” to cover the costs.

Trump’s six weeks of paid maternity leave would be completely paid for “by recapturing fraud and improper payments in the unemployment insurance program,” which Mother Jones reported doesn’t add up.

If Trump got any ideas from congressional Republican women, it’s that time is more valuable to moms than money—an either-or proposition that still falls short of Clinton’s 12-week proposal.

“Just as Ivanka said so perfectly, this is a family issue,” Blackburn said after she and her colleagues took to the stage next to Trump. “We know men always want more money. What do women want? More time.”