Dick Durbin: Candidate profile, U.S. Senate

  • Sen. Dick Durbin

    Sen. Dick Durbin

Updated 9/29/2020 10:18 AM

In the race for the U.S. Senate, incumbent Dick Durbin of Springfield, a Democrat, faces a challenge from former Lake County sheriff Mark Curran Jr. of Libertyville, a Republican.

Three third-party candidates also share the ballot: philanthropist and businessman Willie Wilson of Chicago, Libertarian Danny Malouf of Crystal Lake and Green Party candidate David Black of Rockford.


The Daily Herald asked the candidates to respond to a series of questions. David Black did not complete a questionnaire.

To explore the candidates' campaign websites, visit durbinforsenate.com, electcurran.com, danny2020.com, williewilsonforsenate2020.com, and davidblackforsenate.org.

Q. What has Donald Trump's unconventional leadership taught us about politics in the United States? What is the best thing his presidency has done? What is the most significant criticism you have of it?

A. Donald Trump has failed to lead during one of the most critical periods in our lifetime. We have seen 200,000 American deaths from the pandemic, and millions more infected. Instead of listening to experts, President Trump criticized wearing masks; suggested people ingest cleaning chemicals; and he has failed to use the authorities available to him to mobilize to produce the equipment and testing necessary to save lives.

The President has also failed on climate change, withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Accord and rolling back regulations. President Trump has failed to lead when it comes to addressing racial justice, voicing support for white supremacists. He has failed to lead on the global stage when it comes to failing to hold Russia's Vladimir Putin accountable, even while our own intelligence agencies have determined that Russia attacked our country by interfering in the 2016 election and Russia put bounties on the heads of U.S. soldiers. President Trump has failed to lead when it comes to his erratic trade policies that have hurt Illinois farmers.

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While I disagree with President Trump on most issues, I also worked with him to address criminal justice reform and reduce drug prices.

Q. Many critics of governmental process complain that both Barack Obama and Donald Trump governed too much through executive orders rather than in collaboration with Congress. Is our system in danger of veering toward authoritarianism? From a structural standpoint, does Congress need to place stronger limits on the power of the presidency? If so, be specific on what some of those limits might be. If not, please explain your view.

A. Americans deserve a Congress that legislates. Executive orders cannot meet the long-term needs that comprehensive legislation can. President Trump's executive orders to address the pandemic and the economic crisis are inadequate. He should work with Congress to pass the HEROES Act.

I know too well the frustration with Congress failing to take action. I co-authored the DREAM Act, which was included in 2013 Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation. This bipartisan legislation passed the Senate, but House Republican leadership refused to consider it. President Obama took executive action to create the DACA program to protect the Dreamers only after more than a decade of Congressional inaction.

Congress's shortcomings under Republican leadership go beyond its refusal to legislate on a litany of important issues. For example, take the matter of declaring war. The Constitution designates this responsibility to Congress. Sending Americans to war should only be done with the consent of the people's elected representatives.


And yet, Congress has abdicated this responsibility, sitting by as authorizations of force are stretched beyond credulity and military missions creep into nations never authorized by Congress. Congress must address the outdated authorizations of force for Afghanistan and for the war in Iraq, which I opposed.

Q. Protesters have massed in the streets throughout America calling for greater social justice. How significant a role does systemic racism play in limiting equal opportunity in America? To the degree that it exists, what should be done about it? Do you favor reparations? Should police be "defunded?"

A. We must recognize systemic racism wherever it exists.

I worked with bipartisan partners to enact the most significant criminal justice reform legislation in a generation, the First Step Act. I also authored the Fair Sentencing Act, which lowered the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.

I have worked to address racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality and to address the root causes of gun violence, such as a lack of economic opportunity in underserved areas.

I co-sponsored Sen. Cory Booker's bill to establish a commission to study the impact of slavery and discrimination against African Americans and make recommendations on reparation proposals.

We must use public safety resources in the most effective way possible. Police are performing roles that they often are not equipped for, such as handling mental illness crises. I support shifting some of those responsibilities and funding social services that are better trained to handle those situations. I co-sponsored the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would prohibit racial profiling, ban the use of chokeholds, require police to use dashboard and body cameras, and improve training. The bill also includes the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, which would make lynching a federal crime.

Q. Does today's climate of polarization reflect a natural and necessary ebb and flow in the tone of civic debate? Or does it reflect a dangerous divide? What, if anything, should be done about it?

A. There's no doubt that the national dialogue has become increasingly polarized, and yes, hostile and even violent. When armed vigilantes are showing up to demonstrations and shooting people in the street, as we saw in Kenosha, or when people are driving cars into crowds of protesters, as we saw with the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, it is clear that we have reached a dangerous point.

President Donald Trump has stoked overtly violent rhetoric, and has encouraged white supremacist and other extreme forces. It is one of many reasons why he is unfit to lead this country, and why we must elect former Vice President Joe Biden in November.

Q. Is there a "cancel culture" in America?

A. What we've seen with heightened consciousness around racism, sexism and other forms of oppression, in concert with the rise of social media as a primary form of communication, is that individuals are more likely to be held publicly accountable for offensive or inappropriate statements. This is broadly a positive development that will hopefully lead people to be more careful with their word and deeds. Of course, there are challenges we must continue to grapple with in this new environment.

Q. What do you see as the most important issues to address regarding immigration reform? If you oppose funding for a wall, what steps do you support to try to control illegal immigration?

A. I oppose funding for the wall, but we should fund border security. I was part of the Gang of Six which authored comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform that passed the Senate, which would secure our border, protect American workers, and establish a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Unfortunately, the Republican House of Representatives would not call it for a vote.

I hope that when we have a new President, we can protect Dreamers. I was the first one to introduce the DREAM Act in 2001 after being contacted by Thereza Lee -- a young, undocumented women who was a musical prodigy and was brought to the United States when she was just two years old by her Korean parents.

The DREAM Act would protect Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children, from deportation and give them a chance to earn their U.S. citizenship. I urged President Obama to create the DACA program, which defers deportation for Dreamers for renewable, two-year periods. They did, and it's a fair and just system that Trump and his enablers keep trying to dismantle.

Q. Please define your position on health care reform, especially as it relates to the Affordable Care Act.

A. Health care should be a right afforded to everyone, not a privilege for the wealthy few. My vote for the Affordable Care Act was one of the most important I have taken. It brought health coverage to 20 million Americans, including more than 1 million in Illinois. It protected people with preexisting conditions, lowered prescription drug costs for seniors, allowed young people to stay on their parents' health plans through age 26, and required insurance companies to cover vital services such as maternity/newborn care, substance abuse treatment, doctors' visits and hospitalizations.

Unlike congressional Republicans and President Trump -- who are attempting to eliminate the Affordable Care Act -- I believe we should do everything within our power to shore up the law. That means improving federal assistance to make health insurance more affordable for working families, expanding Medicaid, allowing all individuals the option of purchasing a private or public health insurance plan, ensuring better availability of dental and mental health care, and reducing the cost of prescription drugs.

Q. Should everyone wear a mask? Should our schools be open? What has the country done right about the pandemic? What has it done wrong? How optimistic are you that we'll ever get back to "normal?"

A. Everyone should wear a mask when in public.

Decisions on school re-openings must be made at a local and state level, with input from administrators, teachers, public health experts and parents.

Congress passed four bills to address the pandemic and the economic crisis. We must continue to invest in public health measures such as testing and contract tracing. Congress needs to ensure that families have financial support in the form of enhanced unemployment benefits.

The Senate can pass the HEROES Act and provide funding for schools, extend unemployment, PPP, testing, tracing, and health care systems. Unfortunately, Senate Republican Leader McConnell has said he lacks urgency to pass another relief bill.

President Trump dismissed the severity of the virus. He failed to develop a strategy for testing, contract tracing, or producing personal protective equipment, which resulted in PPE shortages and states competing against each other for resources. Had he taken this seriously, perhaps we would have been able to save lives and save jobs, as other countries have done.

I am optimistic that, at some point, we will get back to normal. Our chances of doing so will be greatly increased if we elect Joe Biden.

Q. What do you consider America's role in world affairs? What are we doing correctly to fill that role? What else should we be doing?

A. Our world faces a host of challenges -- from a pandemic and its economic consequences to climate change to destabilizing actors such as Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. These threats require international cooperation. President Trump has instead undermined our nation's credibility and ability to lead the international community, threatening our NATO alliance, walking away from international agreements, and denigrating our allies.

He withdrew the United States from the World Health Organization in the middle of a pandemic. He started a reckless trade war with China that has hurt Illinois farmers. And he and his enablers have undermined the U.S. government institutions critical to foreign policy, leaving key vacancies unfilled, sidelining career professionals, and filling top positions with inexperienced political minions.

America's strength around the world comes not just from the power of its military, but from the strengths of its ideals, values, and generosity -- areas that have been tragically undermined by this administration. As such, we must lead by example, renew our partnerships, and reaffirm our role as a beacon of democracy and human rights. I have advocated for a strong NATO alliance, assistance to those most vulnerable around the world, and cooperation to stem nuclear proliferation and climate change.

Q. Do you believe climate change is caused by human activity? What steps should government be taking to address the issue?

A. The science is clear. Climate change is real, and human activity is causing increases in greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. This is one of the most significant crises we've faced. Unless we act soon, the entire world will experience the dire effects from the changing climate, which will continue to hit vulnerable populations hardest.

We can't afford to leave this crisis for our children and grandchildren. Congress and the federal government need to implement a comprehensive clean electricity and transportation plan to reduce carbon emissions through regulations and investments to help transition the U.S. to a clean energy economy.

I am a member of the Climate Action Task Force, where we're looking at ways to combat climate change. I introduced America's Clean Future Fund Act to establish an independent agency that would finance and spur the creation of U.S. jobs by investing in a clean energy economy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and ensure a fair transition for those who work in fossil fuel sector jobs, and those who have been on the front lines of fossil fuel pollution and the impacts we are already facing from climate change.

Q. What role does Congress play with regards to the growth of conspiracy theory groups like QAnon?

A. QAnon is a fringe, conspiracy theory, which the FBI has warned is a domestic terrorism threat. The fact that President Donald Trump and many Republican leaders in Congress won't speak out against QAnon is embarrassing and dangerous.

I have led efforts in Congress to address homegrown violent extremists. In January, I introduced the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2020, which would establish offices dedicated to combating this threat, require law enforcement to regularly assess the threat, and provide training and local resources to combat it.

It's not enough to just condemn the rising prevalence of these organizations, we need to pass legislation equipping and empowering law enforcement to identify and combat domestic terrorism.

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