Working together: Republican Kirk, Democrat Schneider tout bipartisanship to students

A current and a former representative of the 10th Congressional District - one a Republican, the other the Democrat - discussed the need for bipartisanship before an audience of students Wednesday at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider and former Republican U.S. Rep. and Sen. Mark Kirk were the guests at a "Building Bridges" discussion moderated by Andrew Conneen, who teaches government at Stevenson.

Conneen said the event is part of an effort to get young people talking about solutions to political polarization and "bridging the gaps" between Americans.

In his remarks to students, Kirk discussed building relationships in the Senate with Democrats like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and current Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. He said he and Schumer worked on legislation together aboard Manchin's boat, after having bonded over 1970s music.

Schneider discussed his membership in the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers who work to find solutions to challenges such as health care costs and aging infrastructure.

"Once a month, I'm hosting a dinner with three Republicans and three Democrats," Schneider said. "No politics. Politics are not allowed. We're just going to have a conversation. So you build those relationships."

Schneider, of Highland Park, and Kirk also told students how they have worked together to relaunch the Abuelitas Program. Initiated by Kirk in 2005, the program aims to help obtain short-term tourism visas for older Mexican residents so they can reunite with family members in the 10th District.

Students asked the current and former members of Congress questions about life in the Capitol and what they would change if they could.

"How important are committee assignments to your success in Congress?" junior Noah Schechter asked.

"Pretty damn important," Kirk replied, getting a laugh from the audience. "Brad is on what's considered the best committee in the House of Representatives. The Ways and Means is known as the committee that controls the tax code. And most people don't understand it's the committee that controls automatic entitlement spending. Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, all that kind of stuff."

When asked about what he would do with a 28th Amendment to the Constitution, Schneider said he would raise the number of Supreme Court justices to 11 or 13 and boost the size of the Senate to 150, because by the end of the decade it's expected that 70% of the population will live in cities in the 15 largest states.

  Stevenson High School social studies teacher Andrew Conneen questions former U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and Congressman Brad Schneider during a "Building Bridges" event at the Lincolnshire school Wednesday. Brian Hill/
  Former U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and Congressman Brad Schneider spoke about bipartisanship Wednesday with students at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. Brian Hill/
  Former U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk speaks to a student Wednesday after the "Building Bridges" event. Brian Hill/
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