Poll finds that voters back paid family leave but says it’s still dividing issue for Democrats

It’s a moment that has almost universal support: More than 80 percent of voters support a national paid family leave policy. As President Donald Trump prepares to deliver his State of the Union address, hundreds of Democratic lawmakers are expected to put their constituents’ wishes on the national agenda.

Legislation will likely be introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) as early as next week and likely move forward as a standalone measure, though Gillibrand was careful to note it was not an endorsement of a Senate bill, like Sen. Patty Murray’s, which would fund paid family leave through a small payroll tax.

While many Democrats may be hesitant to take on the president on a sticky subject like paid family leave, several incoming members of Congress announced plans to support a national paid family leave policy during the election cycle and made it part of their stump speeches as they courted voters in districts where they were running unopposed.

Paid family leave will likely to the top-of-mind for Democrats when the House votes on the Republican tax bill next week, according to a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released last week. About 53 percent of voters told the pollsters that they agreed that paid family leave should be made a federal priority.

There was a mixed result when Democrats used last year’s tax bill to highlight the Republican bill’s cruelest cuts, including one that would make it harder for American women to give birth at home. A CNN poll from November found 52 percent of voters surveyed opposed the bill.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who unsuccessfully ran for president and is running for reelection this year, said the upcoming tax vote should highlight the importance of paid family leave.

“All of us should be on the record in support of paid family leave, whether we’re in office or not,” he said in January. “And if we’re not, we’re in a position to make that change.”

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who is running for president as well, and first announced her support for paid family leave in a New York Times op-ed in May. And even Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee, who has been mentioned as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, said in an interview with San Francisco’s public radio station KQED that paid family leave should be part of the party’s platform.

“We have a gaping hole in our national economic policy when it comes to the health of mothers and fathers,” he said. “It needs to be a national goal that as a country we’re going to protect the health of parents when they’re breastfeeding or when they’re having a child, or their child is too sick to go to the doctor.”

According to a January 2020 Republican poll, there was somewhat of a split between Democrats and Republicans when it came to paid family leave. But the pollsters warned that polls such as these may only show a national snapshot of opinion on the issue, and said more likely they would show the idea to be divisive.

Most recently, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) signed a paid family leave law that will take effect on July 1, 2020. Similar laws have passed in five other states.

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