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President Biden to tout Rep. Lauren Underwood in Crystal Lake visit, tough Illinois turf for Democrats

Biden is making his first visit to Illinois as president on Wednesday. He is meeting with Mayor Lori Lightfoot at O’Hare Airport days after a heavy weekend of shootings in Chicago.

Press Secretary Psaki Holds White House Media Briefing
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki arrives at a daily briefing on Tuesday where she talked about President Joe Biden’s trip to Crystal Lake, Illinois, and meeting with Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is taking himself to tough political turf with his visit Wednesday to Crystal Lake, in McHenry County, where voters rejected Democrats Biden, Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Lauren Underwood in 2020.

He’ll be at McHenry County College, a community college in Crystal Lake — northwest of Chicago — promoting key parts of his domestic policy agenda — packaged and branded as it works its way through Congress as the American Families Plan.

Illinois Democrats I talked to are baffled by Biden’s visit to one of the redder parts of one of the bluest states in the nation, though they’re happy he’s coming.

This will be Biden’s first visit to Illinois as president.

It’s been awhile.

The enormity of what became the COVID-19 pandemic hit just before the March, 17, 2020, Illinois primary, and Biden had to cancel his March 13, 2020, Illinois campaign stop.

“The president choosing to come here was a very pleasant surprise,” said Kristina Zahorik, the president of the Illinois Democratic County Chairs Association and the chair of the Democratic Party of McHenry County.

It’s not like Democrats in Illinois — or Underwood, who got a shout out from Press Secretary Jen Psaki at the Tuesday briefing — were lobbying the White House for a visit to the Chicago suburbs.

Underwood had a close call in her 2020 reelection and may need help in 2022 to win a third term. But Underwood’s team was as surprised as everyone else when they got word over the July 4 weekend that Biden was coming to Crystal Lake. Underwood and Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., both represent parts of that suburb, a bit of a Democrat haven in otherwise red McHenry.

Biden stumped in St. Charles for Underwood in October 2018, days before her first election, and he was a terrific closer. The St. Charles stop helped Underwood turn out her voters.

Underwood’s team certainly didn’t want to use a chit with the Biden White House in July 2021. They would rather have “saved” a Biden visit for later, after Illinois Democrats drew new congressional districts.

Democratic mapmakers in Springfield will not be drawing new congressional districts —based on the 2020 Census — until later this year. Since Democrats control the remaps in Illinois, it’s highly likely that a new map may make Underwood’s political life easier by jettisoning McHenry County from the 14th Congressional District.

Sometimes a president makes a stop in a district or a state to build some pressure on a persuadable member of Congress for a key vote, but that’s not the case here.

Biden coming to blue Illinois, where Democrats control everything, is quite a respite.

I asked Psaki at the briefing, “Could you just explain a little bit more of how this trip to one of the redder parts of the bluest states in totality can advance the Biden policy and political agenda since there’s no swayable members of Congress? They’re all for you?”

Psaki said, “I would see this as less of a political trip” and that Biden “ran as someone who would represent not just Democrats, not just Republicans, not just independents, but all people.”

Going to Trump territory — McHenry County in Illinois — certainly makes that point.

BIDEN: WILL MEET WITH LIGHTFOOT, PRITZKER

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker will greet Biden when he lands Air Force One at O’Hare Airport before Biden takes a helicopter to McHenry College. Lightfoot will have a meeting with the president at the airport. Pritzker’s meeting may be in McHenry.

Biden and Lightfoot will huddle after Chicago suffered its most violent weekend of 2021, with 104 shot and 19 killed.

Last month, Biden unveiled a package of crime fighting proposals, including a crackdown on illegal guns — one of the biggest factors fueling Chicago’s violence.

Psaki said, “I’ll have to check and see how long that is allocated for that meeting. And certainly, he is always receptive to what any elected official wants to raise and what they want to discuss. I will note that the president continues to work to address violent crime.”

“He will also continue to work to empower ATF. He’s proposed an additional $70 million increase, over the last Trump budget, for ATF to ensure that they have the funding and resources they need to crack down on illegal guns. And I know gun violence is a huge driver of the crime in Chicago.

“And finally, he’s going to continue to advocate for supporting evidence-based community violence intervention programs that are proven to reduce gun violence in a range of communities. But I’m sure he’ll be happy to discuss components of his budget. She may have different things on her agenda when they see each other tomorrow.”