The next Senate Democratic leader is looking forward to adding another, more important title to his resume: grandpa.
“It reminds me of the thing most missing in my life: grandchildren,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer said. “My daughter got married three, four weeks ago , so they’re less far away than before.”
The New York Democrat was speaking at a news conference on Wednesday pushing for an agreement with the House on combating the Zika virus . But it was moms and babies who were the stars of the event, even with a renowned author in attendance.
“Despite what Republican leaders may think, the Zika virus cannot wait for a few weeks or months,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, who has been the lead negotiator for the Democratic caucus.
The Senate has passed a $1.1 billion supplemental as part of a recent appropriations bill, though Murray and other Democrats say that Republicans should move ahead with standalone legislation to get something to President Barack Obama’s desk soon.
But the news conference was unusual given the presence of toddlers and even younger children, a far more effective visual aid than the customary charts.
As Murray outlined why she believes the House’s $622 million Zika aid package was so insufficient , a child running around the ornate room named for Lyndon B. Johnson on the second floor of the Capitol was stealing the show.
“He is not bothering me at all. I’ve taught pre-school,” said Murray. “I can speak while people are eating and drinking and crying and everything else.”
Heidi Murkoff, the bestselling author of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” who joined the group of Democrats after a discussion with Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, said, “Family values should value families, and as a mom and a grandmother and a lover of moms and babies and families, I recognize that I might be a little biased on the subject, but it’s a good bias to have.”
“If you think about it, there is no better investment in our future than in their future,” she said. “Our future depends on healthy beginnings for every mom and every baby.”
Democrats have at times struggled with messaging battles during previous public health emergencies like the 2014 Ebola outbreak . The House GOP proposal wants to use funds from that effort to combat Zika.
“There’s no question that Republicans are great at just giving a message of, ‘Be afraid, Be afraid, Be afraid,’ and they used that effectively in the last election,” Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow said. “But the truth of the matter is that if they want to actually do something that deals with the threats facing families in our country, then they have to act on Zika.”
The White House has shifted money around already to address the Zika crisis, and negotiations are said to be underway between the House and the Senate over how to respond to the spread of the virus as mosquito season approaches. But any agreement could take weeks, according to people familiar with the talks. And the end product is sure to be less than the full $1.9 billion requested by the Obama administration.
But for at least a moment, the focus was on the children in the LBJ Room.