Durbin attending State of Union to ‘respect’ presidency; bringing Loyola Dreamer

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Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., read one of the “Pete the Cat” books to children at the Chicago Commons Nia Family Center before a brief press conference. | Pete Grieve/For the Sun-Times

Sen. Dick Durbin — who earlier this month was in a major dust-up with President Donald Trump — said Monday he will attend Trump’s first State of the Union address out of respect for the office of the presidency — and in the hope that his presence will keep open negotiations toward a “good bipartisan answer” on immigration.

Durbin, D-Ill., thought about boycotting the address, and said he respects the decisions of some Democratic representatives, including fellow Illinois Democrat, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who have announced they won’t be there to protest various policies and actions of the president.

He announced that his guest will be a Dreamer who is a Loyola University medical student: Cesar Montelongo Hernandez.

“This young person who is going to be my guest runs the risk of seeing an end to their medical education because of the end of DACA. They won’t be able to pursue a residency at any hospital” he said. “So we’ll lose a doctor. For what? For what?”

He and the president tussled recently after an earlier White House meeting on immigration included Trump’s use of foul language. Durbin insisted Trump had demeaned Haiti and referred to African nations as “shithole countries,” which the president denied; others at the meeting simply said they did not hear it. Durbin was seated next to the president at the meeting, during which Trump was presented with a bipartisan compromise on immigration but rejected it.

Durbin said Trump is completely responsible for having put people covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at risk.

“The president created this crisis. The president created this timetable,” Durbin said Monday morning at the Chicago Commons Nia Family Center in East Garfield Park.

Durbin will sit down Monday afternoon with representatives from the White House and members of Congress to continue negotiations.

“I’m not excited about a wall, but I’m prepared to move forward on some parts of fence, or barrier, or wall that makes sense,” he said. “I don’t want to throw away billions of dollars on some empty campaign promise that was supposed to be paid for by the Mexicans.”

He said he talked to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, over the weekend about a bipartisan effort she’s leading on immigration.

“I applaud them. I want to work with them. I think we can get something done,” he said.

The senator told reporters he is very concerned about Republican efforts to stop special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“We are very conscious of the fact that there have been efforts underway in both in Congress and in the White House to slow down or stop the efforts by Bob Mueller,” he said. “Bob Mueller is a complete professional from my point of view, who is undertaking an investigation that goes to the basic heart of justice in America. The basic question: Is there anyone above the law in the United States of America?”

Durbin pledged to accept Mueller’s findings on collusion or obstruction, even if he comes up with nothing.

“Whatever his conclusion may be I’ll stand by it,” he said. “If he says nothing wrong occurred, so be it.”

He predicts Trump will spend time during his speech talking about the GOP tax bill.

Durbin said the priority on taxes should be providing relief to working families, not to the wealthy.

“Sadly, the president’s tax bill started with the wealthiest people in America. They didn’t come to Washington asking for tax breaks in my office, but they ended up with the most generous tax breaks in this bill,” he said.

Durbin spoke to reporters at the family Center, 744 N. Monticello Ave., after reading “Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons” to a group of children.

“They prepared me to head back to the Senate this afternoon,” Durbin said. “We have some learning to do there as well.”

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