House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed in a letter to colleagues on Wednesday that four weeks of paid family and medical leave are being added back into the Build Back Better bill, President Joe Biden's sweeping climate change and social spending measure.
The paid leave provision, which is overwhelmingly popular amid both Democrats and Republicans according to polling, was axed from the bill as recently as last week.
The United States is the only wealthy country without any form of national paid leave, according to the New York Times.
"It had been my intention throughout this process to put on the House Floor and pass a bill that would pass the Senate in the same form," Pelosi said. "Because I have been informed by a Senator of opposition to a few of the priorities contained in our bill and because we must have legislation agreed to by the House and the Senate in the final version of the Build Back Better Act that we will send to the President’s desk, we must strive to find common ground in the legislation."
The California Democrat said that paid leave will be discussed in a meeting of the House Rules Committee on Wednesday: "As we are reviewing priorities and at the urging of many Members of the Caucus, I have asked the Ways and Means Committee for its legislation for Paid Family and Medical Leave to be included in this morning’s hearing."
Paid leave still hinges on the support of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, one of the moderate holdouts on the Build Back Better plan, who objected to paid leave as recently as last week, and still did on Wednesday.
"That's a challenge," Manchin said of putting paid leave in the reconciliation bill. "Very much of a challenge, and they know how I feel about that."
Manchin said he was unaware Pelosi had included the provision and believes that paid leave should be done on a bipartisan basis, not through the reconciliation process.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a major supporter of paid leave, told reporters that she was emboldened by Pelosi's letter and said that she is still talking to her West Virginia colleague about it.
Other Democrats issued their full-throated support of paid family leave, including Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
"I'm going to pull out all the stops for paid family leave, because I think it is a disgrace that we are essentially the only western industrialized nation that hasn't figured it out," Wyden said Wednesday.
"I am incredibly relieved to see Speaker Pelosi include paid leave in the House Build Back Better Act," Washington Sen. Patty Murray said. "This is a key step forward — but we are not done fighting to get this across the finish line."
"The American People are waiting for us to help them, to walk in their shoes, & do what is best for them," Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a staunch paid leave advocate, wrote on Twitter. "I’ve said it before, & I’ll say it again – now is the time to provide paid family & medical leave for all families, & we are doing it in the" Build Back Better plan.
Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal, Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, released a statement championing the provision, seemingly lobbing direct appeal toward Sen. Manchin that it would be fully paid for.
"The Ways and Means Committee crafted a policy that will finally give workers and their families the peace of mind of knowing that when disaster strikes, they can rely on paid leave to avoid total crisis," Neal wrote. "We do this responsibly, fully paying for the means-tested program. This is a matter of financial security, worker productivity, and most of all, humanity."
"There are many programs and priorities that are central to rebuilding our economy to be stronger and more inclusive, but with paid leave, we will finally recognize that workers have responsibilities outside of their jobs and unlock their full potential," Neal continued. "We also level the playing field for our nation’s small businesses who have struggled to provide this vital benefit, increasing worker satisfaction and employee retention."
Separately, POLITICO reports that paid leave has one major booster who has been lobbying Senators to join their cause: Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex.
According to POLITICO, Markle has been calling lawmakers, including Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, to push for paid leave.
"I’m in my car. I’m driving," Capito recounted to the outlet. "It says caller ID blocked. Honestly … I thought it was Sen. Manchin. His calls come in blocked. And she goes 'Sen. Capito?' I said, 'Yes.' She said, 'This is Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.' I couldn’t figure out how she got my number."
"I was happy to talk with her," Collins said, but conceded that she is "more interested in what the people of Maine are telling me about it."
"Much to my surprise, she called me on my private line and she introduced herself as the duchess of Sussex, which Is kind of ironic," the Maine Republican added.
HuffPost reported Tuesday that Markle called Sen. Gillibrand to ask how she can get more involved on the issue, according to the New York lawmaker, and NBC reported last week that Markle reached out to both Sens. Murray and Gillibrand to thank them for their work on paid leave, urging them to keep fighting for the provision.