Congressman Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., knew things could go awry during the House Speaker vote on Tuesday, Jan. 3. Having already served three terms, he says the "chaos" of Washington, D.C., politics is nothing new.
It was new for Gomez's family members, who had plans to watch Gomez be sworn in for a fourth term and then tour the nation's capital.
"I have my wife, mom, siblings, their spouses, my baby, my niece and my two nephews (with me)," Gomez tells TODAY.com. "I think their heads are spinning."
So when the Republican members of the House failed to elect a House speaker — the first failure of its kind in a century — Gomez relied on the only foolproof plan he had: Babywearing his 4-month-old son, Hodge, and sticking to a strict feeding schedule as the hours dragged on.
"His feedings are at 7 in the morning, then four hours later at 11, then again at 3, then at 7 o'clock at night," Gomez explains. "He's an alarm clock. At three hours he starts getting fussy and cranky, and that's when you have to keep him occupied because once he gets to three and a half hours, that's when he gets really upset."
Armed with enough diapers, wipes, bottles and his trusty babywearing sling that allows Hodge to smile at Gomez's colleagues — the congressman says at one point Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., insisted he "give me that baby" because he's "the most gorgeous baby" — Gomez felt confident about keeping Hodge happy.
Just like the House Speaker vote, things did not entirely go to plan.
"The first feed at 11 a.m. started at 10:45 a.m. and took an extra 30 minutes. Then he had a diaper blowout," Gomez says, laughing. "I had to go and change him. Luckily there's a men's bathroom right across the hall from my office."
Gomez's office is located in the Cannon House Office building on Capitol Hill. All the restrooms in Cannon have baby changing stations, including the men's bathrooms — a recent update to the facility, Gomez says.
"He was probably the first baby to be changed on it," he adds. "But that took another 30 minutes."
Gomez had planned on being on the House floor at 11:30 in the morning. At 11:55 a.m., he was just finishing the diaper change.
"We were burning time," he jokes. "But I was able to take him to the floor when they started doing the roll call."
'For me, it was a special day as a father and as an American'
Despite the uncompromising meal times and diaper blowouts, Gomez says it was vital that his 4-month-old be present as the congressman cast his vote for minority Speaker of the House Hakeem Jeffries, D.-N.Y. — the first Black man to secure the position in U.S. history.
As his name was called, Gomez gave his vote while babywearing.
"On behalf of my son Hodge and all the working families who need an expanded Child Tax Credit, I cast my vote for Hakeem Jeffries," Gomez said, followed by applause from his Democratic colleagues.
Members of the House of Representatives have been allowed to bring family members, including small children, to the House floor for the Speaker vote and swearing in, though they didn't always receive a warm welcome. In 1924, a member of Congress complained about children taking up House seats.
In 2018, after Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., gave birth to a daughter, infants were finally allowed on the Senate floor.
Gomez does not believe he is the first member of the House to babywear on the floor, nor did he babywear his son "to make history," he says.
"I was doing it because I wanted to have Hodge there and I wanted to show him off," he adds. "He's my son and I'm proud of him. Hopefully I won't be the last member to babywear on the floor or to babywear and vote."
Gomez's parents and four siblings are from Mexico, and Gomez says that in one generation his family has seen a child of immigrants serve as a member of Congress.
"Now their grandchild has been on the floor of the House of Representatives," he adds. "For me, it was a special day as a father and as an American."
It was also important to Gomez to represent not just working families, but working fathers who take on a more equitable share of parenting duties.
More than half of two working parent households report that moms take on more of the child care responsibilities, according to the Pew Research Center. The inequitable division of labor was exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — in an October 2020 survey conducted by Pew, 74% of working moms said they did more childrearing than their spouse or partner.
"In the end, we have to normalize dads taking their kids with them, be it stay-at-home dads or working dads," Gomez says. "When I took him to the floor, I think people were surprised — but it wasn't a big deal. I think it does send a powerful message that us guys need to do our part. We don't risk our lives bringing children into the world — women do."
'Babywearing is cool now!'
In addition to demonstrating an equitable division of child care between parents, Gomez says it was important for him to dispel the myth that parenting is "women's work," especially as a member of the Latino community where the "machismo" culture is still prevalent.
"When you're a parent, it's just about getting it done. It's not about, 'What is a man's role?' and, 'What is a woman's role?'" he says, adding that he thinks it's "manly to take care of your son."
"I think our culture is changing and evolving," he explains. "I've seen it with my own eyes and also within my own family. I mean, babywearing is cool now!"
On Wednesday, Jan. 4, Gomez and his family, along with Hodge, returned to the House floor as Republican members continued to try and appoint a Speaker of the House.
Gomez even picked out a special outfit for Hodge and the occasion.
"He has a little polo shirt with a little bow tie," Gomez says. "He'll look cute. I don't think I'm going to keep him on the Floor for that many rounds of votes again — he has an appointment to tour the White House."
Hodge wasn't the only small child in attendance during the first day of voting — many members brought their family members both young and old.
"It really makes you understand that your legacy is the kids — all the kids that were on the floor today and all the kids who don't have the privilege of being on the floor," Gomez says. "What do we do for them?"
The children who were present, Gomez says, also gave the members of the House some "perspective" and, at times, some reprieve.
"They'd ask simple questions and make silly faces and make yourself not take yourself so seriously," he says. "They remind you about the common humanity amongst all the people in that Chamber. I had Republican members walk by and go: 'Oh, that's a cute baby.'"
"The presence of the kids makes people understand who we're doing it for," he adds. "People loved having the kids on the floor."