Hours before Hillary’s historic speech last night, I was invited to HRC campaign HQ in Brooklyn for a small roundtable with Chelsea Clinton to talk about her mom’s focus on issues for working parents. The timing felt...well, it felt ripe, and not just because Chelsea is about to give birth to her second child. Everyone in the room assumed that Hillary was about to clinch New Jersey (and probably California), and that these were the issues the campaign wanted front and center.
Chelsea—who speaks in complete paragraphs but is remarkably unguarded and real—is the vice chair of the Clinton Foundation and very much a working mom herself. It’ll be fascinating to see the family choices she makes as her mom’s campaign gets busier. As you read these snippets from our conversation, imagine a baby punctuating many of these sentences with gurgles and coos. “Junior,” the son of one of the attendees, was a very welcome presence in the room. Chelsea is as poised and studied and careful as she speaks as you might imagine, but seeing Junior sitting with his mom made her gesture at her own empty lap: “I miss my daughter’s weight on me right now,” she told us. And when the afternoon wrapped up, she apologized for dashing out with this: “I’m running to the bathroom! I don’t think the biology of being pregnant is something we should be weirded out by!”
Here are my favorite thoughts Chelsea shared:
HOW PARENTHOOD HAS CHANGED HER
“I didn't know that I could care any more intensely about politics until I became a parent and found that I could and that did really surprise me....I just hope that someday my children—my 21-month-old daughter Charlotte and her future little sister or little brother, who's not going to arrive today, but soon, will feel as much pride toward me as I feel for my mom.”
ON THE WORKING-MOM LESSONS SHE LEARNED FROM HILLARY’S JUGGLE
“I never felt like she was making trade-offs between quality and quantity of time. And was just so grateful that she did set the bar so high for me….On those rare occasions that she missed a family dinner or was traveling on the weekend, she talked to me about why she was having to be gone. She always treated me seriously and made me feel included in her work. I say this sometimes, and people laugh, but it's true: I knew what Legal Aid was when I went to kindergarten because if she was gone, it was often because of her Legal Aid work. I try to adopt that in my own life. So when I'm on the campaign trail and have to go off for a few days, I tell my daughter.....even though she doesn't really understand yet...I'll take out a map and say, I'm going to California. I'm going to New Jersey. She can now say, ‘New Jersey!’ I want my children to grow up feeling equally included and empowered and supported.”
HOW ONE CHILDHOOD STRUGGLE PREPARED HER FOR ANY LOW BLOWS FROM TRUMP
“My earliest political memories come from 1986. I was six years old. My dad was running for reelection as governor of Arkansas against Frank White [who] represented the worst of Arkansas' past. He was an active segregationist. He wanted to overturn Brown versus the Board of Education 30 years after the fact. He was an active misogynist.
And although he was running against my dad, he spent a lot of time attacking my mom....saying...she spends all this time working on behalf of other people's families. She must neglect her own family. She's clearly not putting her husband first….And, oh, her poor daughter! She must be really neglected. Now thankfully, I knew that was crazy….I knew that as my parents’ only child I got the first and last word on my mom as a mom.
And thankfully, too, my parents created that as a teachable moment. We would have these mock debates around the dinner table...about issues I said I cared about...like I didn't want to have Sloppy Joes twice a week at Booker Elementary school for lunch. And I wanted us to recycle.
And then we would have debates where someone would play Frank White. And those would start off seriously but quickly devolve into kind of the personal attacks because whomever was charged with playing Frank White had to actually play Frank White. But what my parents tried to teach me was that the first type of debate is what you hope politics is: when you're talking about things that might seem small but that can make a big difference. And the second, unfortunately, is too often what politics is.”
ON WHY PAID PARENTAL LEAVE IS SO IMPORTANT TO HILLARY...
“It’s partly because of her own story with me. When she got pregnant with me in 1979, she realized that her law firm had no maternity leave policy. No one who had ever worked there and then become a mother had ever come back to work full time….So she wrote her firm's maternity leave policy. This was pretty radical back in 1980, and it would be radical in 2016. She gave all new mothers—both lawyers and support staff—four months of paid time off. So this is very much an issue she's been working on on a policy level but also literally on a personal level my whole life, by definition….We've come a long way but have a long way to go. I know it's very much part of what she sees as the unfinished business of standing up for women and families.
[Also, solving poverty] starts with parental leave, to support parents when they become parents and to support children when they are born. Even though this doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker, looking at the things my mom has said about parental leave, early childhood education, affordable housing, support programs for parents and children, and finishing the work of the affordable care act, all hopefully ladders up.”
...AND HOW SHE’D PULL IT OFF
“My mom’s intensive[ly] focus[ed] on tax credits instead of just the expectation of employers bearing the burden [of paying for parental leave and other family-oriented benefits]. You see this in the childcare policy: Getting to a reality where no one is spending more than 10% of their income on childcare. That, almost by definition, has to be done by tax credits.
Historically, Republicans have been more likely to support tax credits that reward people for their work than impose corporations’ additional payment for life choices that we make. We can’t afford to wait six years [when she hopes Democrats might win back the House] to make progress on these issues. [So], thinking about how to be both effective and smart is just really important.”
ON WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM 182 OTHER COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD THAT HAVE PAID PARENTAL LEAVE
“Work is shifting dramatically around the world, so I don’t know that anyone has figured it out….There’s lots of information out of Japan about trying to get women back in the work force. It’s not working. There’s lots of research now around...is it cultural, are the incentives insufficient, are the options insufficient? Even in places where there are lots of efforts with lots of political support, they’re not always working….The real question is: How do we recognize that we ourselves will be part of an experiment, and how do we get comfortable paying attention to what’s happening around the world so that we see what’s working, and, candidly, what’s not.”