8th Congressional District Democratic nominee: Raja Krishnamoorthi
By Sun-Times Editorial Board
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking the 8th Congressional District seat a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing their district and the country. Raja Krishnamoorthi submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:
As a member of the U.S. House, what are or would be your top cause or causes?
Krishnamoorthi: Currently, two-thirds of Americans do not possess a four-year college degree. While it is clear that every job requires some form of post-secondary training, this training can take different forms such as a four-year university degree, a two-year associate’s degree at a community college, or a professional certificate obtained via on-the-job training. My top priority this Congress has been making sure every worker has the skills needed to succeed in the modern economy, regardless of whether he or she attends college. This approach will help every American step onto the up-escalator of our economy and achieve the American Dream. My legislation, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2353), passed both the House and Senate unanimously, and was signed into law in July 2018. This is the first major rewrite of our skills-based and vocational education laws since 2006, and the first time Congress succeeded in passing this bill since it expired in 2012. There are currently 12 million students enrolled in career and technical education programs nationwide, and this law will open up career and technical education to millions more. Currently, 6.5 million jobs are unfilled because workers have not been given the right skills to fill the jobs. H.R. 2353 will help make sure that employers and educators are working hand-in-hand to make sure students and transitioning workers learn the skills they need for career success.
Please list three highly specific needs of your district that you would make priorities.
Krishnamoorthi: First, the most important infrastructure concern to my district is to complete the Elgin-O’Hare Western Access project. This project has been held up for years in negotiations between the Illinois Tollway and Canadian Pacific Railway over air rights in Canadian Pacific’s Bensenville rail yard. After years of impasse over the issue, we were finally able to get both parties to successfully conclude their negotiations. I led local leaders in sending a letter to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board that urged them to help the parties reach a negotiated settlement, and my office has been in constant contact with CP, the Tollway, and the Surface Transportation Board as all sides sought to reach an agreement. This summer the parties announced an agreement to allow for western access to O’Hare International Airport. Now we need to make certain that this agreement can become a reality and allow the suburbs to thrive and bring thousands of good-paying jobs to our region.
Second, to represent a congressional district that includes hundreds of thousands of middle-class Americans, I have an obligation to ensure that these working families are able to participate in the American Dream. Not every job will require a college degree, but every worker will need some training beyond a high school diploma. I am committed to helping both educators and employers teach students the skills necessary for career success, and that’s why H.R. 2353 becoming law (as described above) was so important.
Third, the 8th Congressional District of Illinois is home to one of the highest percentages of foreign-born residents of any congressional district in the country. We need to fix our immigration system to create a permanent, legislative fix for the Dreamers and continue to keep the United States as the beacon of hope for all who want to build a better life for themselves. I myself am the son of legal immigrants to America. My district is full of people, from every corner of the globe, who believe in the same American Dream that took my parents halfway around the world. We must make sure that America is a welcoming country for immigrants as they ultimately make us a stronger, more prosperous country because of their presence.
Bipartisanship is virtually non-existent in the House. What would you do about that?
Krishnamoorthi: As a former small businessman, I try in Congress every day to look for common ground to discover where I agree with people of other political parties before I look for disagreements. This approach led me to be the lead co-sponsor of H.R. 2353, which was signed into law this summer. Although the previous law expired in 2012, Congress was unable to craft a bipartisan solution for more than six years. I worked tirelessly alongside Republican Congressman GT Thompson from Pennsylvania, who was the other lead co-sponsor. This bill will help an estimated 12 million students who are currently enrolled in skills-based and vocational education programs, and it will open the door to millions more. It makes sure that businesses are working hand-in-hand with educators to help students learn the skills that will lead directly to careers.
So far, I have introduced and passed 14 pieces of bipartisan legislation through the U.S. House of Representatives, and five of those bills have become law. In addition, I have also co-founded the Middle Class Jobs Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives with Congressman Mike Gallagher (R-WI), and I also co-founded the Congressional Solar Caucus with Congressman Ralph Norman (R-SC).
Are you convinced that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election in support of the candidacy of Donald Trump? Please explain.
Krishnamoorthi: Along with the entire U.S. intelligence community, I am convinced that Russia meddled in the 2016 election and continues to attempt to undermine our democracy. I have been present in numerous classified briefings where I heard nothing that would cause me to doubt the facts that have been widely reported regarding both the 2016 election and the upcoming midterm elections. In fact, I have introduced legislation, the KREMLIN (Keeping Russian Entrapments Minimal and Limiting Intelligence Networks) Act, which would require a National Intelligence Estimate of Russia’s current and past actions toward the United States and other western democracies.
Do you support the investigation being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller? Please explain.
Krishnamoorthi: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is vital to the health of our democracy. We need a full accounting of the facts regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election, including if any American citizens helped Russians to undermine America’s electoral system. Mueller has secured one jury conviction and six guilty pleas, and his investigation has also indicted other Russians who will likely not be extradited to face justice in our country. In conversations with constituents, I am constantly asked if I believe our democracy is secure. This investigation is key to learning both what went wrong and how to make sure it never happens again.
If President Trump were to fire Mueller, directly or indirectly, what should Congress do?
Krishnamoorthi: Any move by the President to fire Mueller, or instruct his Attorney General to do so, would be an impeachable offense. President Nixon’s first Article of Impeachment was Obstruction of Justice, and any attempt by President Trump to do the same must be met with all the Constitutional power that Congress can muster.
If Trump were to pardon his former campaign aide Paul Manafort, what should Congress do?
Krishnamoorthi: A pardon of Paul Manafort would be a strong signal to any other co-conspirators that the President will not allow them to be punished provided they don’t turn on him. Congress and Mueller would need to examine if this pardon was in any way an attempt to undermine an ongoing criminal investigation. If so, it would be appropriate for Congress to consider impeachment for obstruction of justice depending on Special Counsel Mueller’s findings.
Which three actions taken so far by the Trump administration do you most strongly support?
Krishnamoorthi: First, I support the President signing into law my bill, H.R. 2353, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. This is one of five pieces of legislation I introduced that have been signed into law by the President.
Second, I supported the President’s work to combat the opioid crisis. He has made this a priority for Congress, and we have responded with laws that help both law enforcement and public health officials to combat this public health crisis. I co-chaired a bipartisan hearing with Republican Congressman Jim Jordan where we brought in local experts to testify about the challenges and successes they are facing in their communities.
And finally, President Trump reversed his initial decision not to have the flag flying over the White House at half-mast until the late Senator John McCain’s internment. Senator McCain was an American hero and patriot. He was an independent voice in our American democracy and someone who was willing to buck his own political party to stand up for what he believed was right. As a nation, we should all remember and honor Senator McCain’s memory, and the eventual decision by the President to lower the flag at the White House to half-mast was necessary.
Which three actions taken by the Trump administration do you most strongly disagree with?
Krishnamoorthi: First, I strongly oppose the Trump Administration’s ongoing sabotage of the Affordable Care Act. This law protects millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions from having to choose between medical care and putting food on the table. After their attempts to repeal the law failed, the administration has turned to administrative sabotage to undermine the law. This is a life-and-death matter for millions of Americans, and Congress needs to put a stop to this immediately.
Second, I opposed the deficit-busting tax bill that Republicans pushed through Congress on a party-line vote. This bill uniquely harms my district by capping the State and Local Tax Deduction (SALT Deduction). Not only will this increase taxes for my constituents, but it will starve local governments of funds they need for schools, police, and many other services.
And finally, I am fundamentally opposed to the administration’s policy of family separation at the southern border of the U.S. This is a humanitarian catastrophe of our own making, and the administration has failed to comply with numerous court orders to reunite these children with their families. I am also opposed to any plan that would create permanent mass detention facilities on the southern border for families with legal asylum claims. This is part of a larger anti-immigrant push by this administration, which is why I opposed the President’s “Muslim travel ban” in January 2017 and was the first Member of Congress to arrive at O’Hare International Airport to help free detained American citizens and permanent residents.
The Trump administration has taken action to roll back Obama-era policies aimed at curbing climate change and limiting environmental pollution. The administration has done so in the name of supporting business growth and making the United States more energy self-sufficient. Most notably, the administration has begun to dismantle Obama’s federal rules over American coal plants, weakened automobile fuel-economy standards and ended American participation in the Paris climate agreement. What is your take on all this?
Krishnamoorthi: My first act in Congress was to introduce a resolution calling on President Trump to abide by the commitments the United States made in the Paris Climate Agreement. I am deeply opposed to all of the administration’s anti-environmental actions. As a former small businessman in the solar industry, I have firsthand experience with both the promise of the green economy and the pressing need to invest in environmentally-friendly technologies. This is why I co-founded the Congressional Solar Caucus, alongside Republican Congressman Ralph Norman of South Carolina.
To what extent is climate change a man-made phenomenon? How serious is the threat to our children’s future? What should be done?
Krishnamoorthi: Climate change is a man-made phenomenon. The data is clear that this is the case, and our own observations back this up. From some of the hottest years on record to the increase in both wildfires, hurricanes, and other catastrophic weather events, the evidence is before us daily. This is possibly the single greatest threat to humankind, but it is fixable. I support an “all of the above” approach, from increasing adoption of renewable resources to building our cities so people are less-reliant on fossil fuels for daily life, to reducing consumption of fossil fuels at both an individual and industrial level. We also need to expand our investments in carbon capture and sequestration technology.
What is the single most important action Congress can take to curb gun violence?
Krishnamoorthi: Currently, 60 percent of gun deaths are suicides, not homicides. I have introduced legislation that would implement a nationwide 3-day waiting period for the purchase of a firearm. There is data that shows that states with such a waiting period experience significantly fewer gun deaths (both homicides and suicides) than states without such a waiting period. I have also co-sponsored legislation to close the gun-show loophole and mandate universal background checks, establish a select committee on Gun Violence Prevention, repeal the ban on letting the Centers for Disease Control study gun violence as a health problem, and to prevent the sale of military-style assault weapons to civilians.
Is the media the “enemy of the people”? Please explain.
Krishnamoorthi: No. A free press is fundamental to any democratic system, and this is why the freedom of the press is enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution. I have also co-sponsored legislation to create a federal “press shield” law that would prevent reporters from going to jail for refusing to reveal their sources.
As an editorial board, our core criticism of the tax overhaul legislation pushed through Congress last December is that it lowers taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans at a time of historic inequalities of wealth and income in the United States. We believe in free markets, but the ‘silent hand’ of the market does not seem to be rewarding merit fairly. What’s your position on last December’s rewrite of the tax code? Would you push for further changes, or for the law’s repeal?
Krishnamoorthi: I voted against the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act because its cuts were not targeted and added massively to our federal deficit, which the CBO estimates will exceed $1 trillion this year.
In addition to skyrocketing deficits, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is exacerbating the growing wealth disparity in our nation. Fully 83 percent of the benefits of that tax cut flowed to corporations and the top 1% of income earners. And the savings realized by corporations have not been passed along to their workers. Instead, they are going primarily toward stock buybacks and increased dividends. Moreover, the lower corporate tax rate is permanent, but the individual rate cuts are only temporary – meaning that Congress will have to revisit those rates in ten years when our economy may not be as robust as it is today.
Finally, the tax law will do particular harm to many taxpayers in my district by capping the federal deduction for state and local taxes – including property taxes. Many of my constituents pay far more in state and local taxes than the $10,000 annual cap, and could see their taxes actually rise under the new tax law contrary to the promises made by its supporters.
Speaking of income inequality, top executives of America’s biggest companies saw their average annual pay surge to $18.9 million in 2017, even as the pay of ordinary workers has remained flat for a decade. What, if anything, should be done to address the growing gap in wealth and income?
Krishnamoorthi: We need to move away from a mindset of “quarterly capitalism” where companies focus on their short-term earnings reports and move toward an economy that makes long-term investments – in workers, in facilities, and in communities. I support raising the minimum wage so that working families do not live in poverty. We also need to lower the costs of healthcare, child care, and higher education so that all families have the ability to access the middle class. I have co-sponsored bills that would provide paid family leave for all workers and make it easier for employees to win pay discrimination cases. My bill to reauthorize career and technical Education (H.R. 2353), which was signed into law in 2018, will help millions of students get the skills needed to get a good-paying, family-sustaining job.
Would it be appropriate at this time for President Trump to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit the White House? Why so, or why not?
Krishnamoorthi: It would not be appropriate for President Trump to invite Russian President Putin to the White House. President Trump’s campaign is under investigation for potentially conspiring with Russian agents to influence the election. The President’s Helsinki Summit with Putin was a disaster, where the President appeared to take the word of Putin over the assessment of our own intelligence agencies that Russia has interfered with our elections. Welcoming Vladimir Putin to the White House would be a further sign that the President sees his interests aligned with Putin’s and opposed to our allies.
How would you assess and grade the Trump administration’s efforts to recalibrate our nation’s relationships with Korea, NATO and Russia?
Krishnamoorthi: Korea: C-. The President was bold to consider a summit with Kim Jong-un to end the North Korean nuclear threat. However, as is the case with so many other times, the President didn’t do his homework, shot from the hip, and appears to have left the summit thinking more was promised than Kim did. This has led to a series of follow-up meetings without any clarity as to their goals or parameters. Most importantly, we have not seen concrete progress toward an agreement encompassing the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
NATO: D. While I am glad the President has made it a priority to have our NATO allies meet their defense spending commitments, his other actions have left historic allies worried that the United States will not stand by our treaty commitments. The basis of any treaty is mutual trust, and President Trump’s actions have undermined the trust that our allies have placed in us.
Russia: D. Contrary to the universal findings of the American intelligence community, President Trump continues to deny that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. He has openly accepted Vladimir Putin’s explanation that Russia did not meddle, a stunning rebuke of the American intelligence community. This President seems comfortable insulting anyone except Putin.
In late June, the Supreme Court upheld the Trump administration’s travel ban on visitors and immigrants from seven countries, five of which have Muslim majorities. What is your view on this ban?
Krishnamoorthi: I am opposed to this ban, which does little to improve our safety and isolates the United States, and Congress must overturn the executive order. One need only to look at the President’s multiple statements to see the discriminatory intent behind this ban, and his actions in office have only underscored an unmistakable desire to reduce the number of immigrants to this country. I have co-sponsored numerous bills that would undo these orders, and Congress must exercise strict oversight of the administration’s implementation of this travel ban.
What three major reforms should be made to United States immigration policy? *
First, we need to find a permanent, legislative solution that allows Dreamers to live and work in the United States. For the vast majority of the DACA-eligible population, the United States is the only home they’ve ever known.
Second, we need a system that allows undocumented people living here the chance to apply for permanent residency or citizenship, provided they pay any fines or taxes due, have no criminal record, and go to the back of the line.
Third, we should staple a green card to every college or graduate degree. Right now, millions of students come to learn at our world-class universities. However, not all these graduates are able to stay in the United States. Right now, we’re educating the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs for the rest of the world. We should do everything possible to keep these people in the United States.
Do you support or oppose the family-based immigration policy sometimes called “chain migration”? Please explain.
Krishnamoorthi: I support our current system of family-based migration. This allows families to stay together, and these immigrants add to both our economy and the richness of the American tapestry. Nearly half the immigrants who arrive via a family-sponsored visa possess an undergraduate or graduate degree, and studies show that immigrants with a relative already here in the United States tend to assimilate more successfully than otherwise.
What would you do, as a member of Congress, to improve race relations in the United States?
Krishnamoorthi: I am a proud Indian-American, and I work every day to support Indian-Americans in public service. I am always willing to work with people from any background as we all work to make a more perfect union. In Congress, I have co-sponsored various measures to fight the rise in hate-crimes, prejudice, and bigotry, which impede the improvement in race relations. I am hopeful that Congress will take up these measures, especially after the November elections.
What is the biggest difference between you and your opponent?
Krishnamoorthi: I am the only candidate in the race for Congress in the 8th District of Illinois who has deep experience in both the public and private sectors. In Congress, I have found ways for Democrats and Republicans to work together, and I have demonstrated this through my record of introducing bipartisan legislation that has been signed into law.