Jan Schakowsky: Candidate profile, U.S. House 9th District
Incumbent Democrat Jan Schakowsky of Evanston faces a challenge from Republican Sargis Sangari of Skokie, head of a think tank on Middle Eastern affairs, in the race for the 9th Congressional District, which spreads from a significant part of Chicago's North Side west into parts of Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Park Ridge, Prospect Heights, Skokie and Wilmette.
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's election to the presidency and tenure have confirmed what Barack Obama said shortly before leaving office, Donald Trump is not an outlier; he is a culmination, a logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party for the past 10, 15, 20 years. What surprised me was the degree to which those tactics and rhetoric completely jumped the rails.
President Obama was right. Trump came to office not wanting to achieve progress (more equality for all, an equitable and prosperous economy, a cleaner environment, low-cost and available health care, etc.), but rather his goal was self-promotion, consolidation of wealth for the top 1%, and destruction of traditionally bipartisan institutional norms. He embraced the scare tactics that some on the other side of the aisle have attempted to utilize for decades to persuade voters: the "immigrants'' are coming for your jobs and to commit crimes; the Democrats want to come to your home and take your guns; the "big government" "deep state" will never allow conservative leadership to thrive; the only truth in media comes from a certain cable channel; and all Democrats are godless.
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. There is the danger in every society to veer toward authoritarianism. It is American civics 101, but our nation's founders drafted our Constitution to prevent just that -- and it has been an overwhelming success. We never had to fear our democracy unfolding until Donald Trump took office and jettisoned our presidential norms and traditions we took for granted.
There is no doubt that without constitutional guard rails, President Trump would almost certainly take the necessary actions outside of the democratic process to secure his position of power. He's said it out loud -- he has even run social media ads suggesting he and his family should control America for generations to come.
Right now, the president is trying to manipulate an election and he's attempting it in broad daylight -- just look at the situation with mail-in ballots and the post office. He has installed an attorney general who acts like the president's personal attorney and not the attorney for the people. He has surrounded himself in the West Wing with family members and cronies.
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. Systemic racism plays an enormous role in limiting equal opportunity in America. For decades, we've seen de facto segregation limit the quality of education, housing, and business opportunities people of color can access.
We see employment policies that favor white people; and this is reflected by the fact that the Black unemployment rate has been twice that of whites over the past 60 years. We see drastic racial disparities in our health care system including in Illinois where Black women are six times more likely to die from pregnancy-related conditions.
And we also see this in the distribution of wealth in America -- white families hold 90 percent of the national wealth. Racism is lurking at every level of our society and it's time we truly own up to this and work to fix it.
We must ensure that we have Black, Brown, Indigenous and other people of color occupying more positions of power. We need to rethink our current system of policing and shift it away from this militarized, unaccountable system to one that is based on public safety.
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. Polarization is a part of any democracy and civic debate, and yes, it ebbs and flows. I felt the years that George W. Bush was in the White House and Tom Delay was the Majority Leader in the House, were extraordinarily polarized. We all remember the vicious fights over the Iraq War or the case of Terri Schiavo.
However, today's polarization seems to have taken it to a new level. The current president has achieved cultlike status, and his followers in the GOP seem determined to follow him to the deepest depths. Look at Lindsey Graham for example. Sen. Graham was best of friends with John McCain, and worked with him to cut bipartisan deals and get things done. Since Trump has taken office he's thrown all that aside and become a total sycophant, even allowing the president to take his deceased friend's name in vain.
Trumpism can be toxic. But things will be better again. A critical mass of Americans will say enough is enough in November.
Q. Is there a "cancel culture" in America?
A. Anyone in the country is entitled to protest, boycott and take peaceful action to object to things they find offensive or wrong. As my late friend John Lewis would say, "make good trouble." But without a doubt, in today's social media environment, "cancel culture" has taken on a life of its own. It is part and parcel of an epidemic of online bullying that often targets individuals, groups or institutions on both sides of the aisle.
President Trump has made himself the Cancel Culture-in-Chief, with his incessant online bullying meant to hurt businesses or people. The examples are endless, ranging from Alexander Vindman to Goodyear Tire.
In May, I co-authored a statement in response to President Trump's attempt to use an Executive Order to bully and "cancel" the activities of social media companies who did not do exactly as he pleased. At the time I said, "With this Executive Order, the President is lashing out to punish social media platforms that are seeking to stop the dissemination of misinformation." His actions pose a clear and present threat to our democracy, far beyond his usual rantings.
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. The United States of America was built by immigrants, made strong by immigrants, and made great by immigrants. I am a first-generation American -- the daughter of immigrants who, along with their parents, were given the opportunity to work their way into the American middle class and raise a child who would become a Member of Congress.
I know firsthand what we mean when we say immigrants make America great. I support passing comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who are living and working in our country, and contributing positively to our communities. These people left everything they knew and had behind; they were either fleeing perilous circumstances, seeking to improve their family's well-being, or both; they endured life-threatening circumstances just for the opportunity to reach our shores and get to work.
We would be doing a great disservice to our own country if we fail to harness their strength and gumption by allowing them to earn citizenship.
Q. Please define your position on health care reform, especially as it relates to the Affordable Care Act.
A. I am a strong proponent of the Affordable Care Act, a bill I helped author and pass into law. If Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans are successful and the ACA is ultimately struck down, the results would be catastrophic.
With no ACA, protections for over 130 million Americans living with preexisting conditions will be eliminated. 20 million Americans would lose their health insurance in the first year alone, and premiums would increase for millions more. Insurance companies could put an age tax on seniors, could charge women more than men and just STOP covering the costs of prescription drugs. Seniors would pay more for prescription drugs because the Medicare doughnut hole would be reopened.
Medicaid expansion, which has expanded health care to over 600,000 people in my home state of Illinois, would be gone. Free wellness exams and contraception would be gone. Young adults like my grandchildren would no longer be able to stay on their parents' plan until age 26. The loss of the ACA would be devastating to millions.
Q. Should everyone wear a mask?
A. Yes. Let's face it, if everyone in this country had spent two weeks locked down when this started, and wore masks and washed hands uniformly, we could have ended this months ago, saving thousands of lives and millions of jobs. Everyone should still wear a mask -- this disaster is far from over.
Q. Should our schools be open?
A. I have spoken with parents, teachers and school administrators and there is no right answer to this question. Kids need to be back in school, it's what's best for their education as well as their parents' sanity and ability to do their own jobs (the economy can never fully recover with kids out of school).
But pushing our kids back into school prematurely could have devastating consequences for them, and their loved ones. School re-openings must be done on a case-by-base, district-by-district, basis, based on science and public health considerations. Some areas of the country may be ready for business as usual. Others cannot take that risk.
These decisions have to be made at the local and state level with input from parents, teachers, and public health officials. A federally mandated nationwide return to school is dangerous and shortsighted.
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. Since the end of World War II, the United States has been the global leader, a nation the world looks up to. We achieved this status based on our Constitution, values, resources and strength. We have been a shining light to those around the world facing oppression or trauma. We have been the role model for what a functional democracy should do. We are a desirable home to immigrants for a reason -- we are a nation of hope, freedom, and opportunity -- and we have attempted to export these values around the world.
The United States is most strong when we form alliances. NATO has prevented World War III, kept Europe secure, and provided a check on an expansionist Russia. Efforts via the United Nations, such as uniting the world against a nuclear Iran have proved invaluable. And the United States has taken up the responsibility of addressing what may be the greatest existential threat to the entire globe -- the threat of climate change -- by developing the international Paris Climate Accords.
Q. Do you believe climate change is caused by human activity? What steps should government be taking to address the issue?
A. Climate change is real, it is an existential threat to our nation and planet, and it is happening at an alarming rate. When I served on the House Intelligence Committee, the committee listed Climate Change as a National Security Threat.
The United States is responsible for more than a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions since 1850, so we have a significant responsibility to help address global climate change. According to the National Climate Assessment, the average global temperature could rise by 3 degrees Celsius by 2100 because of increased greenhouse gas emissions. In recent decades, this has been evident by extreme weather, devastating wildfires, and increased hurricanes and flooding.
Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has been moving in the opposite direction. President Trump has moved to pull the U.S. out of the landmark Paris Climate Agreement and undo the Clean Power Plan adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama. The Trump Administration is even refusing to acknowledge the proven and scientific effects of climate change in official documents.
Q. What role does Congress play with regards to the growth of conspiracy theory groups like QAnon?
A. Let's be clear, QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory, not based in fact whatsoever, that is considered a domestic terror threat by the FBI. And its supporters are praised by the President of the United States. That is President Trump in a nutshell.
It is crucial for the U.S. Congress to pass a law, or a series of laws, that can hold companies accountable for helping spread the false information created by QAnon. Platforms like Facebook have provided a home to these dangerous individuals and it must stop immediately. No organization, media or otherwise, should be able to hide behind liability shields while they turn a blind eye to such dangerous disinformation campaigns.
There is a group of bipartisan members who are leading by example working to draw attention to the menace that is QAnon. One of these members is my Republican colleague Denver Riggleman who, alongside Democrat Tom Malinowski, has introduced a bipartisan resolution that "condemns QAnon and rejects the conspiracy theories it promotes."