U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh fielded questions about serious issues -- including his decision not to attend President Obama's jobs speech to Congress this week -- during a pair of classroom chats with Mundelein High School students on Tuesday.
Walsh, a McHenry Republican who always seems at home in front of an audience, joked with students and school staffers as he talked about government's role in our lives, health care, the economy and other matters in teacher Tom Kuhn's AP Government classes.
He didn't shy away from questions about his well-publicized plan to boycott Obama's speech this Thursday night, telling teens in both classes why he won't be in the Capitol for the rare joint session of Congress.
It's a matter of principle, he explained. Although he doesn't know what Obama will tell lawmakers, he doesn't expect it will be earth-shattering.
"Typically, we call joint sessions of Congress for pretty big deals," he told one class. "It seems like it's lowering the bar of what a joint session address to Congress is supposed to be."
Furthermore, Obama is using the event as political theater, Walsh said in the second class.
"I don't want to be a prop in his play," he said.
Walsh, a freshman congressman with tea party roots, has been critical of Obama and his policies and has been in the national spotlight for his outspoken stances on the national debt, health care and other political issues.
Walsh also garnered attention this summer after the media uncovered he'd been sued by his ex-wife, who claimed he owed $117,437 in child support.
A student in the first class asked Walsh about the matter, and he denied the allegation, just as he has in other venues.
"It makes me sad that my ex-wife did what she did ... because it's just not true," Walsh said.
That led to a frank discussion about the nature of politics and the media.
"When you run for office, it's like you walk around naked for two years," Walsh said. "I'm not going to complain about it. It's part of what I have to deal with as a congressman."
Government spending was the subject of several questions in both classes. One student asked Walsh to name federal programs he'd cut to save money, and the congressman quickly said he'd end subsidies to oil companies, immediately pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan and eliminate the U.S. Education Department.
He also said the Medicare program must change, insisting people should be responsible for their own health care costs. The government, Walsh said, should merely be a "safety net" when it comes to health care.
Walsh was amused to learn kids in both classes are seated according to their self-described political affiliations. Liberals sit in desks on the left side of the classroom, conservatives on the right near the door and moderates in the middle near the back.
In both discussions, Walsh paced around the center of the room and interacted with students in all three groups, delivering high-fives and playful pokes to some teens.
He asked the students what they thought about the often-ugly battle over the debt ceiling and whether it was good for the country. He got a mix of responses but insisted the "food fight," as he called it, helped raise awareness.
And even though he disagrees with Obama on nearly every policy move, telling one class he was elected to "stop what this president is doing," Walsh expressed gratitude over Obama's 2008 election.
"(It) woke up the American people," he said. "People are finally paying attention to their government."