WASHINGTON — When relatively new Illinois House Speaker Chris Welch, D-Hillside, met House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a Capitol “meet and greet” for him, he unabashedly asked her to autograph a book he brought with him — a Pelosi biography by journalist Molly Ball.
Welch flew to Washington on Monday and will remain through Saturday morning, with his debut D.C. visit as Speaker a trip heavy on fundraising and prospecting with potential donors and meeting with members of the Illinois congressional delegation. When we talked Monday night, Welch said a White House meeting with some advisers to President Joe Biden might also be arranged.
The “meet and greet” in the historic Lincoln Room on Monday drew top House leaders — besides Pelosi — and a contingent of members of the Congressional Black Caucus. State Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, is on the D.C. trip with Welch.
It was hosted by Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., the new Democratic Party of Illinois chair who shares with Welch a common origin story. “We took over from the same person,” Kelly said in brief remarks at the reception, where members drifted in an out because of House votes.
“He became the Speaker and I became the chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois,” said Kelly, a reference to the man left unnamed — the scandalized Mike Madigan, the former House Speaker and DPI chair who is at the center of an aggressive federal public corruption investigation.
Madigan was forced to step down as leader and state party chair, paving the way for Welch to be elected Speaker in January and Kelly party chair in March. They are each the first Black lawmakers to win these posts.
There was only one Republican at the reception, Welch’s law school friend, Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill. They attended the John Marshall Law School, now known as the University of Illinois Chicago School of Law.
The Washington trip is also Welch’s first out of state fundraiser, with an event Tuesday night to benefit the two political funds he controls — his reelection fund, “The people for Emanuel “Chris” Welch, and the war chest used to elect Democrats to the state House, the Democrats for the Illinois House. The tickets ranged from $250 to $10,000.
Earlier on Tuesday, Welch met with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to discuss infrastructure and electric cars and in a separate meeting discussed Illinois issues with Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Welch will make the rounds of the national offices of the major unions that under Madigan were heavy givers to the state party and his own political war chests. On Friday, he’ll meet with other delegation members, Emily’s List and other Democratic allied interests.
“A lot of folks are getting to know me for the first time and getting to know me as Speaker and who I am and what I represent,” Welch told me.
There are five Republicans in the Illinois congressional delegation. Welch said he will try to meet with four of them — but not freshman Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill., whose husband is state Rep. Chris Miller, R-Oakland. Both of them are strong Trump loyalists.
“She’s not on my schedule,” Welch said when I asked if he would seek her out. “With regards to the Congresswoman, I just don’t know if there’s any issues that can bring us together because she’s been focused on such extreme, extreme items.”
On Friday night, he’ll watch the Cubs play the Nats at Nationals Park.
I asked Pelosi if she had advice for the Illinois Speaker. “I think he is of a new generation. He probably has some advice for us.”