With Peter Roskam’s craven capitulation to President Trump in last week’s congressional Trumpcare vote, it’s time for suburban Democrats to play Rahm Emanuel.
Let me explain.
Roskam is the Republican congressman from Illinois’s Sixth District, which consists of half of DuPage County and portions of Cook County, including Barrington and Palatine.
He is a six-term incumbent who won his last election by 18 percentage points and hasn’t been seriously challenged since 2006, when he defeated Tammy Duckworth, then a neophyte, now a U.S. senator.
In short, he’s got a safe seat and, as such, is free to vote his conscience. So what did he do? He voted with Donald Trump to replace Obamacare with Trumpcare.
OK, I know Obama’s Affordable Care Act has its obvious flaws. Not the least of which is that it’s vulnerable to attempts by Trump to repeal it. And we should replace it, with the kind of single-payer system that just about every other civilized country adopted years ago.
But I think everyone to the left of, oh, Rick Santorum, would agree that the monstrosity passed by House Republicans under Trump is far worse than what we currently have. It’s pretty similar, flaws and all, to the plan the Republicans couldn’t pass last month. And if this plan is passed by the Senate—and thankfully, it probably won’t be—it would likely jack up premiums, deny coverage for folks with preexisting conditions, and bankrupt states by cutting back on Medicaid funding. Just like the last Republican proposal.
Naturally, Trump had the Republicans rush it through the House without having it vetted by the Congressional Budget Office, precisely because he didn’t want voters to know how many millions of people stood to lose their coverage if it became law.
So why did Roskam vote for such a wretched bill?
His stated reason to reporters: “I think it was a good pathway forward because the status quo is not sustainable.”
Oh, there’s some sterling logic. Obamacare’s struggling in part because Trump’s vowed to do what he can to kill it by cutting off government assistance for low-income recipients, so let’s replace it with a plan that’s guaranteed to fail.
His unstated Machiavellian reason? If he wants to get a congressional committee chair, he’s got to kiss Trump’s derriere. Or as Sun-Times Washington columnist Lynn Sweet put it: “Roskam has aspired to GOP leadership, and this Thursday was a test of party loyalty.”
I haven’t seen such an obvious display of spinelessness since the Chicago City Council rolled over and overwhelmingly voted to approve the parking meter deal for fear of upsetting Mayor Daley.
The good news is that Roskam’s allegiance to Trump has left him vulnerable in 2018. Yes, DuPage County is traditionally a Republican stronghold. But it’s been inching left in recent years.
As Sweet also points out, Hillary Clinton beat Trump in the district by a margin of 50 to 43 percent. Generally, voters there are fiscally conservative but socially liberal on issues like gay rights and abortion. Roskam has said he’s pro-choice, but Trumpcare also strips Planned Parenthood of its federal funding. So much for Roskam’s support for reproductive rights.
Sixth District voters were already disenchanted with Roskam even before his Trumpcare capitulation. In February, he ran out the back door of a Republican Political Organization gathering in Palatine rather than confront 300 or so constituents demanding to meet with him to talk about health care. And in March, he raced out of a Maggiano’s restaurant in River North after giving a speech at the City Club rather than answer questions from Derrick Blakely, a CBS 2 reporter.
Watching Roskam scurry out of side doors reminds me of the time in 1989 when Congressman Dan Rostenkowski (from the Fifth District, in Chicago) ducked out of a meeting with outraged senior citizens as they chanted things like “Shame on you!”
The seniors were outraged over hikes in their Medicare premiums. Some things never change.
And that brings us to your Rahm Emanuel moment, voters.
Back in 2006, before he was our mayor, Rahm was the congressman from the Fifth District and the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Caucus.
As such, his job was to recruit and support congressional candidates who could win in Republican or swing districts, not unlike the Sixth seems to be now.
In fact, it was Emanuel who helped launch Duckworth’s career by recruiting her to run in the Sixth. Before losing to Roskam, Duckworth defeated Christine Cegelis in a contentious Democratic primary. In 2012, she unseated Joe Walsh as congressman of the abutting Eighth District, and the rest is history.
With next year’s congressional primary, disaffected Democratic voters in the Sixth District will get to take a turn being Chairman Rahm, picking the candidate who can best unseat Roskam and send a big, bold message to Trump by bouncing his lackey right out of office.
Several Democrats have already announced their intention to run against Roskam. Let’s run through a few of them:
Amanda Howland, a lawyer who ran against Roskam in 2016
Trevor Orsinger, a lawyer and former Cook County public defender
Kelly Mazeski, a former village trustee in North Barrington and, relevant to the health-care debate, a cancer survivor
Becky Anderson, a councilwoman from Naperville, whose family owns the Anderson’s Bookshop chain
Suzyn Price, a former Naperville school board member
Austin Songer, a navy vet and aerospace technician
I’m sure there will be others. In the next few months, folks in the Sixth will get to listen to debates, sift through policy statements, and make their decision.
Man, it sounds so exciting I may have to move out to DuPage County just to get in on the fun.
I realize it won’t be easy to defeat an entrenched candidate, even if he’s just a puppet for Trump. But just so you know, Rostenkowski—who was once a mighty Goliath—was ousted in an upset a few years after he pissed off those seniors.
Last I looked, our country was still a democracy—and anything can happen. v