WASHINGTON – Two new Illinois Democrats were sworn into the House on Tuesday, freshman Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi and, in a comeback second term, Rep. Brad Schneider.
The Illinois House delegation in the new 115th Congress that convened Tuesday has 11 Democrats and 7 Republicans, a net gain by Democrats of one seat with Schneider’s November defeat of Rep. Bob Dold.
Krishnamoorthi, 43, represents the northwest suburban 8th Congressional District. He replaces newly minted Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who held the seat for two terms until vacating it for her Senate run.
Schneider, 55, represents the north suburban 10th Congressional District. It’s a seat battled over for years between Schneider and Dold. Schneider defeated Dold in 2012. Dold beat Schneider in 2014. Schneider won back the seat in 2016.
Both Schneider and Krishnamoorthi were wearing new member pins on their suit coat lapels Tuesday.
“In many respects I feel like I never left,” said Schneider. But he is returning to the House in a very changed political environment. “The biggest change is we have a change of control.”
When Schneider came to the House in January 2013, the Democrats controlled the Senate and President Barack Obama had just been elected to a second term. In 2017, Republicans will hold the House, Senate and the White House.
Donald Trump will be inaugurated on Jan. 20 and his major agenda is to dismantle key Obama accomplishments, with Obamacare at the top of that list.
In what will be an unusual session, Obama on Wednesday will meet with House and Senate Democrats at the Capitol to map strategy to salvage at least parts of the Affordable Care Act.
Trump and Republicans are eager to repeal Obamacare without any clear plan for replacement health insurance coverage.
With House Republicans intent on undoing Obama’s agenda in the first weeks of the session, it’s not clear yet what Democrats can do.
“I come with a greater sense of urgency,” said Schneider, looking to the massive fights ahead. He expects to take up – again – battles with Republicans over measures to curb gun violence.
Born in New Delhi, Krishnamoorthi has the distinction of being the first Hindu-American of Indian descent in the House.
An attorney, he met Obama at a lawyers group in 1999 and volunteered on Obama campaigns. Obama’s 2004 Illinois Senate seat victory showed Krishnamoorthi that a politician with an unusual name could be elected.
Until Obama, “I just wasn’t sure if people would be accepting … of someone with a name as interesting as mine and my background and so forth.”
Indeed, one of Krishnamoorhi’s spots made light of his difficult-to-pronounce name, with the candidate urging folks to “Just call me Raja.”
And that would have been harder if he used his first name – Subramanian – and not Raja, his middle name.
Krishnamoorthi wants to focus on infrastructure projects, including western access to O’Hare International Airport. Trump said he wants a big infrastructure package.
Krishnamoorthi said a Democrat like himself could work with Trump’s administration on infrastructure spending if the new president “is serious about that.”