Lauren Underwood: Candidate profile, U.S. House 14th District
Incumbent Democrat Lauren Underwood of Naperville faces a challenge from Republican State Sen. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove in the race for the 14th Congressional District, which includes the outer ring of the Chicago suburbs from Minooka north to the Wisconsin border. The Daily Herald posed a series of questions to the candidates; here are their responses.
Q: What next steps should Congress take regarding the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: The last six months have been a terribly difficult time for our community. As of writing, more than 180,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. Essential workers are putting their lives on the line, small businesses are fighting to stay afloat, and our students, teachers, parents, and school staff have been put into an impossible situation.
My immediate priority is keeping our community safe and supporting a robust economic recovery.
First, we must get control of this deadly virus with an aggressive national strategy that includes robust COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and free treatment for COVID-19 patients as we develop a vaccine.
Second, as we work to limit the spread of the virus, we need to extend additional loans to our small businesses, extend hazard pay to essential workers, and provide extended unemployment insurance for those who have lost work.
Third, we need to put Americans back to work by investing in America. It's time to take action to upgrade American infrastructure. This is no time to play politics: the federal government, with the full cooperation of the White House and both chambers of Congress, must take immediate bipartisan action to save lives and livelihoods.
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: I will always work with this administration to deliver for our community. President Trump has signed three pieces of my legislation into law.
The first was the Lower Insulin Costs Now Act, which makes generic insulins available on the marketplace sooner. With bipartisan support, I passed legislation to fund an electronic health record system to prevent children from dying of preventable illnesses while in federal custody on the border.
This March, President Trump signed a piece of legislation I wrote to examine our reliance on a foreign-based medical supply chain, which threatens our national security during a pandemic.
Sadly, the president has not lived up to his oath of office. He presides over an overtly corrupt administration and has invited foreign nations to interfere in our elections. He began a trade war via tweet that devastated our rural economy. He has incited violence and encouraged divisiveness.
His administration has failed to implement a national COVID-19 strategy to provide testing and treatment and support a robust economic recovery. The President's own words regarding his Administration's response to COVID-19 say everything: "I don't take responsibility at all."
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: One of the problems I identified during my campaign for this office in 2018 was the Congress' staggering lack of oversight over the Trump Administration. My Republican colleagues have been negligent in exercising oversight over the administration's use of taxpayer dollars and fidelity to the law; their refusal to step up and do their oversight duties represents an unacceptable dereliction of duty. I'm shocked that my Republican colleagues didn't immediately begin oversight hearings when we began seeing images of children held in cages on our border. We've seen this extreme partisanship before, and it's bad for our democracy.
I've taken the opposite approach. While I disagree with President Trump on nearly everything, I'm still willing to work where we agree. Our democracy is built on a set of checks and balances. When members of Congress refuse to conduct their oversight duties out of loyalty to the president, our democracy is undermined. Authoritarian governments require submission to the executive, and unfortunately, that is what I have seen from many of my Republican colleagues in Congress.
Q: Please define your position on health care reform, especially as it relates to the Affordable Care Act.
A: I helped implement the Affordable Care Act as a career civil servant at the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services -- I know exactly what works and what needs to be improved. In Congress, I've focused on protecting coverage for people with preexisting conditions, lowering the cost of prescription drugs and increasing access to quality, affordable health care -- including mental health, maternal health, and reproductive health care.
Meanwhile, the Trump Administration is in court trying to dismantle the ACA and the protections the law provides -- during a global pandemic. If that lawsuit is successful, 20 million Americans could lose their health insurance. I passed legislation to ensure no taxpayer dollars will support that lawsuit. After hearing from countless families in our community who were forced to ration insulin due to cost, I wrote the Lower Insulin Costs Now Act to help lower-cost, generic insulin become available sooner.
I'm proud that President Trump signed that legislation into law at the end of 2019. I look forward to identifying more bipartisan opportunities for progress to expand health care coverage and lower costs during the 117th Congress.
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: This summer, our nation has engaged in a conversation about race, racism and white supremacy in America. I was inspired to see peaceful demonstrations throughout the 14th District, calling for change and affirming Black lives matter. I heard my community loud and clear and I helped lead the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to passage through the House.
This bipartisan legislation mandates policing reforms to give our communities the tools we need to foster a culture of accountability, transparency and justice in law enforcement. Our nation has grappled with systemic racism for 400 years now. It has expressed itself in numerous ways, including inequalities in our education, health care and criminal justice systems. Police shootings of Black Americans are just one symptom of systemic racism.
Here in Illinois, women who look like me are six times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. I founded the bipartisan Black Maternal Health Caucus in Congress to address these disparities and save moms' lives. Together, we introduced landmark legislation and passed a Medicaid expansion in the House to extend access to care for new mothers and save lives.
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: What I really love about our community is how we look out for each other. When someone on our street is sick, we organize a meal train. When our neighbor goes out of town for the week, we grab their mail. We may differ in our political views, race or religion, but we have mutual respect for one another. We've said no to the cynical politics that would have us treat our neighbors and community members with fear and suspicion.
Clearly, we have some work to do to bring those values to Washington. I think that begins with making our government more responsive to the people.
That's why I'm committed to making myself accessible to my constituents across the 14th District. We held 15 town halls in 2019, and another dozen this year. Interacting with our community members one on one, especially when we disagree, helps break through the polarization. I see my job in Congress as bringing the voices and values of northern Illinois to Washington. My office set up nine constituent advisory councils, on issues from education to small business to veterans services, to ensure that I'm doing just that.
Q: What role does Congress play with regards to the growth of conspiracy theory groups like QAnon?
A: As Vice Chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, I know that misinformation on social media is being weaponized against Americans to sow discord, incite violence, cast doubt on the integrity of our elections, and cause confusion about the danger of COVID-19. This proliferation of misinformation is corrosive to our democracy and public trust in government. Congress plays a vital role in ensuring our communities are prepared to defend against this threat.
According to a recent report from the Department of Homeland Security, the deadliest terrorism threat we face is brewing at home in the form of white supremacist groups. We need to make sure that suburban and rural communities like ours are prepared to address the threat of domestic terror. I am proud I was able to partner with one of my Republican colleagues in the House to introduce the Safe Communities Act, to help communities like ours defend themselves. Suburban and rural communities have historically been underserved in this area, and I'm focused on making certain our first responders, schools and places of worship have the resources they need to prepare for, respond to and recover from acts of terrorism.
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: Immigrants are vital to the cultural fabric and economic success of our northern Illinois community and to our country as a whole. We need comprehensive immigration reform that reflects our common values, not a wall or the racist rhetoric and scare tactics commonly employed by the Trump Administration.
I co-sponsored the bipartisan American Dream and Promise Act, which passed the House, to provide a path to lawful permanent resident status for immigrants who have lived much of their lives in the United States and have made this country their home. I also voted in favor of the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act to streamline our temporary worker program and ensure our local businesses have access to the skilled workers they need.
I have consistently held the Trump Administration accountable for their inhumane family separation policy, and traveled to the border multiple times to provide oversight of the outrageous humanitarian crisis at our border. I look forward to considering comprehensive immigration reform during the 117th Congress that respects the diversity of our nation and our shared American values.
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: As a registered nurse who worked on the public health response to Ebola and Zika, I know that we can absolutely get back to normal if we all do our part. Each of us needs to wear a mask, practice good hand hygiene, maintain social distancing, and get our flu shots. Over the past six months, the Trump Administration has failed to implement a national COVID-19 strategy to provide the testing, tracing, and treatment needed to limit community spread and support a robust economic recovery.
Meanwhile, our families, essential workers, students and small business owners are suffering without the support they need. I've been pleased to vote for several large scale COVID-19 relief packages over the last several months. The House approved our most recent relief package, The Heroes Act, on May 15. I'm deeply disappointed that the Senate has failed to come to the negotiating table to get this sorely needed relief out to our families, small businesses and schools. Now is the time to center the voices of our nation's best scientists and health care experts to save lives and livelihoods -- beating COVID-19 should not be a political issue.
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 country has long been a beacon of democracy and freedom to the world. Those values are critical to our diplomatic strength and leadership in the international community. Today, we find ourselves isolated from our international allies with our democratic values under attack.
Due to our lack of a national strategy to manage COVID-19, many American travelers are barred from visiting other countries -- something I never could have imagined. We need to elect leaders who will respect our international agreements and value our NATO alliance.
Fundamentally, we need leaders who respect our democratic values. I have been profoundly disturbed by President Trump's coziness with autocrats and dictators, and his refusal to stand up for our troops serving abroad. I'm troubled by my Republican colleagues' unwillingness to hold the president accountable.
Our country's role as a global leader is predicated on our adherence to democratic values and our alliances with nations and support for people who share democratic values. With President Trump's leadership, we're losing our credibility on the international stage.
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 caused by human activity and our reliance on fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases, and it's happening before our eyes. Northern Illinois has witnessed extreme weather and unprecedented flooding over the past few years that has caused millions of dollars in damage to businesses, homes, farms, and infrastructure.
We have some of the best farmers in the world in Illinois' 14th District, and they cannot afford for us to ignore climate science. That's why I passed legislation to prevent federal agencies like USDA from removing existing public information about climate change from their websites and official communications.
As a public health professional, I believe public policy should be driven by science and data. I secured federal resources to fund CDC's Climate and Health Program and strengthen our nation's ability to respond to health threats brought on by climate change. I support the 100% Clean Economy Act, which sets a national goal of achieving a 100% clean energy economy by 2050. Smart investments in clean energy infrastructure will bring high-quality green jobs to our community and will make northern Illinois a leader in this sector.
Q: Is there a "cancel culture" in America?
A: When we have disagreements on social media, it can be easy to forget there's a person on the other side of the conversation. It's far easier to be disrespectful online than it is to do so in person.
We should not, however, be tolerant of intolerance or abusive behavior. On social media, we're often learning out loud, for all of our friends and acquaintances to see. Treating folks we interact with online with the same respect we offer our neighbors would go a long way. As always, I intend to lead by example.