It was the baby cry heard around the nation.
On Monday, just hours before the California legislative session was set to expire, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks stood on the floor of the Assembly to vote on an important housing bill. She held her one-month-old daughter, Elly, swaddled in a white and gray blanket, to her chest.
Wicks had not wanted to be there. Earlier, she had sent a request to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon asking to vote by proxy. Wicks had wanted to stay at home in Oakland rather than expose her newborn and herself to the coronavirus, which had just felled a Republican lawmaker and had forced some Republicans state senators to vote from home.
Rendon denied her request. So, Wicks got into her car to drive to Sacramento to cast her vote on a number of issues, including a bill that would have allowed duplexes to be built on lots currently zoned for single-family housing. On Monday, she tweeted regularly about which bills she sponsored had passed and also sent out two tweets that focused on her motherhood — one holding Elly saying “Yes, we are here,” and another with her, Elly and a pregnant Assemblymember Monique Limón saying: “Mommy & soon-to-be mommy came to Sacramento today to do the people’s work!”
Close to midnight came the cry that would reverberate around the U.S. Wicks had been nursing Elly in her Capitol office when the vote to allow duplexes came up. She rushed to the floor to vote.
“Please, please, please pass this bill,” Wicks said as she voted and held Elly, according to a story by Politico’s Mackenzie May. Elly squirmed in Wicks’ arms and let out a small cry. “And I’m going to go finish feeding my daughter.”
The bill passed the Assembly but was not considered in the Senate because of time constraints.
Absolutely devastated about #SB1120. Our housing crisis requires us to act, and tonight we failed to do that.— Buffy Wicks (@BuffyWicks) September 1, 2020
But I promise you this: I will *always* show up for housing — no matter what. pic.twitter.com/I4n6X07CNp
Politico posted a story at 1:13 a.m. on Tuesday with a photo of Wicks holding her daughter. It quickly went viral and sparked outrage over the fact that a new nursing mom was forced to leave her house to work rather than vote by proxy because Assembly rules did not consider nursing mothers at high risk of contracting COVID-19. Rendon’s office had told Wicks that “maternity leave is not eligible for proxy voting,” according to Politico. (In the meantime, the State Senate was allowing members exposed to the coronavirus to vote from home).
Hillary Clinton tweeted about the situation. Wicks worked as the state director for Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Wicks also served as the deputy director of public engagement in the Obama White House.
California Assemblymember @buffywicks was told that having recently given birth wasn’t sufficient excuse to cast a vote remotely.— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 1, 2020
So she brought her newborn daughter to the floor to weigh in on an important housing bill. 💪https://t.co/elofHmIcxl pic.twitter.com/ZQf9F10qKE
Former Arizona Congressmember Gabby Giffords also tweeted about the incident.
.@BuffyWicks has proven time and again she'll always do what’s best for her constituents. But in case we need an extra testament to her character, here it is. Strong women get things done!https://t.co/9mOYDGkoZZ— Gabrielle Giffords (@GabbyGiffords) September 1, 2020
Thousands of others took to social media to express their support for Wicks and point out how women are forced to balance motherhood and work, often without institutional support,.
By Tuesday afternoon, Rendon had backtracked and apologized to Wicks. “I want to make a full apology to Assemblymember Buffy Wicks,” Rendon wrote on Twitter. “My intention was never to be inconsiderate to her, her role as a legislator or her role as a mother.”
He vowed to do a better job in the future taking the unique needs of mothers into account.
At 9:24 p.m., Wicks, who is running for reelection, tweeted this photo of her and her two daughters, JoJo and Elly.
Home with my girls ❤️❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/s6wPHt8IhG— Buffy Wicks (@BuffyWicks) September 2, 2020