With less than three months to go before the birth of her baby boy, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) concedes that she and her husband have yet to settle on a name.
“I call him Junior,” she laughs, adding that the baby-naming game has “been a little more difficult than I’d anticipated.”
That aside, the 37-year-old McMorris Rodgers, the first Member in more than a decade who will give birth while in Congress, appears to be taking the challenges of pregnancy in stride, including limiting her evening activities in favor of a good night’s sleep.
McMorris Rodgers — who at six months is barely showing — says the news of the impending birth has received uniformly positive reactions from her fellow Members. “I remember Thelma Drake (R-Va.) saying, ‘Congratulations’ and then the next sentence is, ‘Now, how are you going to do all this?’” she recalls. “I take comfort in knowing that others have done it.”
So how will McMorris Rodgers do it?
One thing the first-time mom-to-be won’t have to worry about is who will take care of her newborn — at least initially her husband, Brian Rodgers, a retired Navy commander, will do the honors, though she quickly adds that the arrangement will likely be temporary.
“I need to probably figure out those other details to give him a break,” she says. “He’s great. I call him Mr. Wonderful.”
For McMorris Rodgers, who got pregnant during her fall re-election campaign, turning the tables on traditional gender expectations and timelines has proved the rule, not the exception.
By her mid-20s she was serving in the Washington state House, where she rose to the post of Minority Leader. And in 2004, at 35, she was elected to the U.S. House. Not until 2005 did she meet her husband, and they married in August.
“It’s a great time to be a woman in Congress,” asserts McMorris Rodgers, who with Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) serves as co-chairwoman of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary at a gala next week. The main limitations she’s encountered so far have been related to “how much time and energy I could give to … a particular issue or a particular committee.”
After the baby’s birth, McMorris Rodgers, who will join only a handful of female Members with young children, expects time management to become even more important.
“I’m sure that I’m going to face some challenges,” she says, noting that already “at times when my husband is sitting waiting for me, it’s not just five or 10 minutes — it’s an hour or two after I said I was going to be ready.”
“I think it’s just going to be important that I’m setting aside that time and protecting that time for my family,” says McMorris Rodgers.
McMorris Rodgers, who endured morning sickness while on the hustings last fall, admits that the pregnancy has bumped up against her political schedule on occasion. Case in point: She remembers getting ready to film a “last-minute” TV ad late one evening when pregnancy-induced hunger struck.
“It wasn’t working well when the lady is trying to put makeup on your face and I’m wanting to eat and then, you know, you are eating grapes and spitting out seeds,” she recalls. “I knew that I shouldn’t be eating … but I also knew that I needed some food.”
McMorris Rodgers is planning to run for re-election in 2008 in her Republican-leaning Eastern Washington district and says she hopes to minimize missed votes related to the birth.
Her baby boy, due “the Tuesday of Memorial Day break,” will be born in D.C., she says, because “I would miss too much time both before and after to have the baby in Washington state.” But how much maternity leave she takes will depend on “how I’m feeling,” she says. “My plan right now is to — probably — just to work more from home … have the staff come over and do some briefings.”
Despite her unconventional trajectory, McMorris Rodgers also has a traditional side. She’s now known as McMorris Rodgers because “I wanted to take my husband’s name yet I also felt politically it was important to keep McMorris.” And she’s a bit sentimental. She keeps on her desk the dried roses from a bouquet her husband gave her for Valentine’s Day 2006 because it was also the day he proposed.
McMorris Rodgers and her husband recently bought a house on 14th Street Southeast and currently are in the midst of multiple construction projects, including “redoing the floors and replacing the windows.” Her husband also “wants to tear out the wall between the kitchen and the dining room all before the end of May,” she says.
Their next step will be decorating the nurseries — both here and at their home in Deer Lake, Wash.— a task her fellow Members will likely pitch in on.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and his wife “might have some baby stuff that they’d be ready to part with … like a crib,” McMorris Rodgers says.
And don’t be surprised if her colleagues in the women’s issues caucus put together a little shower for her.
“We are going to really embrace this new baby born into our Congress,” Capps says.