Suburbs’ new congressmen ready to face steep climb on the ‘Hill’
Brad Schneider and Raja Krishnamoorthi are quickly learning life as freshman Democrats in Congress isn’t going to be easy.
As newbies of the minority party in Washington, they’ve been forced to watch as President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers begin dismantling programs and reversing policies from the Obama administration.
“With a Republican House, Senate and president, the slope we’re climbing is much steeper,” Schneider said.
Schneider and Krishnamoorthi also are struggling to get a read on the unpredictable, anti-establishment figure who now occupies the Oval Office — just like much of the nation and world.
And yet, the duo are optimistic about their ability to be influential and represent suburban constituents. They intend to have a voice.
They share priorities of affordable health insurance for all and protection of the rights of minorities. They also have identified lower-profile issues where they think they can be effective.
Both men hope their different skill sets will help them accomplish their goals.
Schneider, of Deerfield, has the experience of having served a previous term in the House, albeit under vastly different circumstances in the middle of the Obama administration.
He is one of three returning freshmen in the 115th Congress who served before, left and were re-elected.
Krishnamoorthi, of Schaumburg, is one of 51 true freshman representatives in the new Congress and the only one from Illinois.
Krishnamoorthi said his first failed run for Congress in 2012 provided valuable experience. He also gained a mentor of sorts in Sen. and former Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates, whom he lost to in the 2012 primary.
He said his friendship with his predecessor has helped smooth his transition from business owner to lawmaker. Duckworth even passed on to him the district office she previously used in Schaumburg.
Here’s how Schneider and Krishnamoorthi view the challenges in their first year on the Hill.
The balance of power in Washington has shifted dramatically since Schneider first joined Congress in 2013 as the representative for the 10th District, which includes parts of Cook and Lake counties.
Back then, the Republican Party controlled the House, but Democrats held the Senate and the presidency.
“We could rely on the Senate to be a firewall to some of the proposals that were coming through the House that we opposed,” Schneider said.
Now, the GOP has control of both legislative chambers and the White House. And Republican lawmakers and President Trump have promised a legislative agenda that targets issues Democrats hold dear, especially health care.
Schneider said he’ll continue to fight for people’s health care rights, particularly a woman’s right to have an abortion.
But he realizes he might have a better chance with legislation that tackles issues that aren’t so controversial and thus can garner enough bipartisan support to become law.
One example is a bill that aims to help inventors and entrepreneurs more easily meet with potential investors. Schneider introduced the bill, called the HALOS Act, in 2014. It cleared the House, but it didn’t move in the Senate.
The proposal was reintroduced in the House this month and passed. Schneider spoke in favor of it on the House floor.
“Now we have two years to try to get it through the Senate,” he said.
Schneider remains a steadfast supporter of immigration reform and creating a path to citizenship for immigrants living here illegally — concepts that have received backing from some Republicans.
Bipartisan cooperation could be the key to accomplishing those goals, Schneider said.
“I believe if we work together, we can find ways to pass (some) of the pieces of it and eventually get where we need to be,” he said.
Schneider said he feels a greater sense of urgency to build relationships with his colleagues now that he’s returned to Congress, especially those on the other side of the aisle.
Those relationships, he said, “are so necessary to make progress in Congress.”
Of course, any progress Schneider makes in the Capitol could be stopped dead in the White House.
Trump is sure to be an obstacle on immigration reform and other issues championed by the Democrats.
“From day to day, you don’t know what he’s going to do or what he’s going to say,” Schneider said.
Krishnamoorthi said he’s already found his background as a small-business owner is a conversation starter with many House Republicans and a basis for common ground.
“What I bring to the table is a perspective that we have to do everything we can to preserve our free-enterprise system,” said Krishnamoorthi, whose 8th District includes parts of Cook, DuPage and Kane counties. “At the same time, as I said during the campaign, we have to do everything we can to grow and strengthen the middle class.”
Before being elected to Congress, Krishnamoorthi ran businesses that developed products in the national security and renewable energy industries. For example, one company, Episensors Inc., developed night-vision cameras for the military.
Krishnamoorthi has resigned all his business positions to eliminate any possible conflicts of interest.
“That’s part of our ethical obligations,” he said. “I’m a full-time member of Congress. I think you have to be.”
While Krishnamoorthi said he respects that the nation, through the Electoral College, chose Trump as its president, he thinks Trump should not interpret his victory as a mandate for “sweeping” changes because Democrat Hillary Clinton won the popular vote.
Many 8th District residents have expressed fear over Trump’s rhetoric, Krishnamoorthi said. He hopes Trump won’t follow through on those statements that could be most harmful — such as creating a registry for Muslims living in America.
He’s also concerned about the potential scrapping of the Affordable Care Act, but he intends to defend it as the new ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Health Care, Benefits and Administrative Rules. He sees that appointment as evidence of his potential influence.
If Republicans repeal the health care law, he said there must first be a plan to replace it that’s at least equally effective when it comes to insuring people. From a strictly economic perspective, repealing the law without replacing it would hurt even many people with employer-based insurance plans, he said.
One local project Krishnamoorthi said he’ll support is creation of a western access road to O’Hare International Airport. He believes the resulting business development along that road would greatly benefit the 8th District’s economy.
Illinois tollway leaders are asking federal regulators to side with them on taking Canadian Pacific Railroad land that’s needed to build the ring road. The railroad says the tollway doesn’t need the land and its seizure would disrupt national rail service.
“We have to work in unison on this issue,” Krishnamoorthi said.