On O’Hare tarmac, Biden, Lightfoot huddle on Chicago violence before president’s Crystal Lake speech

President Biden, in his first presidential visit to Illinois, threw a spotlight on Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., a vulnerable Democrat. In Crystal Lake, Biden during a McHenry College tour, pointing to Underwood, said, “This woman here, hang on to her.”

SHARE On O’Hare tarmac, Biden, Lightfoot huddle on Chicago violence before president’s Crystal Lake speech

President Joe Biden speaks to a child as he tours a children’s learning center Wednesday with Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., at McHenry County College, in Crystal Lake.

Evan Vucci/AP Photos

WASHINGTON — Chicago’s unrelenting gun violence — with two ATF agents and a Chicago police officer shot hours before President Joe Biden landed at O’Hare for his first presidential visit to Illinois — underscores the urgent need for his administration to speed up the timetable for help promised last month.

As Air Force One was flying to O’Hare — and knowing Mayor Lori Lightfoot was waiting for Biden on the tarmac — White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters, “The administration is in touch with the mayor of Chicago about the shootings overnight and offered condolences for the families.”

The Biden presidential visit — he was en route to Crystal Lake to promote his domestic agenda in Trump territory and boost Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill. — forced rivals Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to stand feet from each other as they waited for their solo tarmac time with Biden.

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After Biden spoke at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake, Psaki said in a statement — using a bit of Washington shorthand to describe the very brief meeting — “During a greet with Mayor Lightfoot on the airport tarmac, President Biden expressed his personal support for the two ATF officials and the Chicago police officer who were shot earlier today.

“He reiterated his commitment to working with the Mayor and leaders in Chicago in the fight against gun violence and conveyed that the Department of Justice would soon be in touch about the strike force announced just a few weeks ago that will be working with cities like Chicago.”

This “soon be in touch.” What is soon? The July 4 holiday weekend was the most violent of the year so far in Chicago, with 104 shot and 19 of them killed.

On June 23, Biden unveiled proposals to curb gun trafficking in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay area and Washington, D.C.

The promise was for the Justice Department to create “five cross-jurisdictional firearms trafficking strike forces within the next 30 days to help reduce violent crime by addressing illegal gun trafficking in significant firearms trafficking corridors.”

A DOJ spokesperson told me Wednesday the strike forces are still being developed and will launch later this month.

The idea, said the spokesperson, is for the Biden strike forces to be different from Operation Legend, a Trump administration temporary surge of law enforcement officials to Chicago and other cities that ended, according to the spokesperson, in December.

“The strike forces announced on June 23 are a separate effort to stem gun violence,” the DOJ spokesperson said. “They will represent a sustained and focused coordination among federal, state, and local law enforcement partners across jurisdictions in significant firearms trafficking corridors.”

The aim is to “disrupt” the flow of guns before they get to Chicago.

The sooner the better.


The White House designed Biden’s trip to Crystal Lake — in McHenry County, in one of the redder, Trumpier parts of the very blue state of Illinois — to rally national support for his two massive domestic packages pending before Congress.

“I know it’s a boring speech,” Biden said after his address at McHenry County College. He didn’t need that touch of self-deprecating humor, but there it was. Before he spoke he did a photo line backstage, with a bunch of Democratic elected Illinois officials.

In his speech, Biden talked about the billions of dollars people and local governments already got from COVID-19 stimulus bills — and more to come for child care, education and traditional infrastructure projects like roads and bridges if deals can be made in Congress.

And in Illinois, under a program Biden signed into law, thousands of families with adjusted gross incomes of less than $150,000 will find on July 15 new money in their bank accounts. “You’ll get cash,” Biden said.

The money will be payment of an enhanced child tax credit of between $250 and $300 for each child under the age of 17. The monthly payments will run through December; Biden wants to extend them to 2025.

According to the Illinois Department of Revenue, in McHenry County there are more than 32,000 children under age 17 listed on taxpayer returns with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000.

Underwood represents part of Crystal Lake, and Biden’s recent travels have been to congressional districts with vulnerable House members like Underwood. The Democrats control the House with only a four-vote margin.

Biden came to McHenry County to bolster Underwood, with that county, a sort of Trumpian stronghold, Underwood’s political Achilles heel. Illinois Democrats, in the pending remap, may well create a new congressional district that cuts out McHenry County.

Still, the Biden spotlight helps Underwood in fundraising and stature. Said Biden during the college tour, pointing to Underwood, “This woman here, hang on to her.”

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