Biden, in Joliet to bolster Rep. Lauren Underwood, calls Medicare, Social Security critics ‘idiots’

The president spoke at an elementary school gymnasium while stumping for Illinois congressional Democrats ahead of Tuesday’s crucial midterm elections.

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U.S. Pres. Joe Biden delivers his remarks at Jones Elementary School in Joliet, Ill., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, where he spoke about lowering the price of prescription drugs and protecting Medicare and Social Security.

U.S. Pres. Joe Biden delivers his remarks at Jones Elementary School in Joliet, Ill., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, where he spoke about lowering the price of prescription drugs and protecting Medicare and Social Security.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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In a hastily arranged event ahead of the Tuesday midterm vote, President Joe Biden on Saturday threw a spotlight on Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., — in Joliet, new political turf for her — as he touted his administration’s record on bringing down drug costs and protecting Medicare and Social Security, messages mirroring major themes from Underwood’s campaign.

“Folks, I came to Illinois to talk about two programs that reflect who we are as Americans, and Lauren understands [this] to her core, to her core — Social Security and Medicare,” Biden said.

Biden spoke in the gym at Jones Elementary School in a semi-rural part of Will County, where fields with crops near the school have already been plowed or picked.

President Joe Biden speaks Saturday morning in Joliet.

President Joe Biden speaks Saturday morning in Joliet.

Patricia Nabong/Sun-Times

Referring to protesters outside the school, Biden, talking about Social Security and Medicare said: “I love those signs when I came in — ‘socialism.’ Give me a break. What idiots.” Democrats accuse Republicans of pursuing policies that would weaken the two programs that senior citizens depend on the most.

Though this was an official event, the political appeals were clear, with House Republicans only needing a net gain of five seats to switch control of the chamber — which is why flipping even one Democratic seat in Illinois could have a major national impact.

“We are in the fight for our lives, for the future of our country,” Underwood said. “No matter your political party, Medicare and Social Security belong to all of us.”

Biden arrived in Chicago on Friday and departed after his Joliet speech — apologizing for not working the rope line — because he had to dash to Pennsylvania to join ex-President Barack Obama at a rally to turn out voters for Democratic nominees John Fetterman for Senate and Josh Shapiro for governor.

Biden’s team put together the last-minute trip to blue state Illinois to bolster three Democratic House incumbents from the Chicago suburbs: Underwood and Reps. Sean Casten and Bill Foster.

In the closing days of the election, the biggest battle for a Chicago-area House seat is turning out to be the 6th district fight between Casten and his Republican rival, Keith Pekau, the Orland Park mayor.

Biden headlined a fundraiser for Casten, Underwood and Foster Friday night at the Loews Chicago Hotel in Rosemont, the hotel where Biden overnighted.

David Wasserman, the U.S. House of Representatives editor for The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, on Tuesday downgraded his forecast for the Casten and Underwood races from likely Democratic to lean Democratic.

In an interview on Saturday with the Sun-Times, Wasserman said Casten and Underwood were in “a little bit more jeopardy because [voters] hold Democrats responsible for everything” in Illinois, a reference to the Democrats’ grip on statewide elected offices.

Foster, from Naperville, was ranked as a likely Democratic win over GOP challenger Catalina Lauf of Woodstock.

U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood meets supporters after speaking at Jones Elementary School in Joliet, Ill., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, during Pres. Joe Biden’s visit where he spoke about lowering the price of prescription drugs and protecting Medicare and Social Security.

U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood meets supporters after speaking at Jones Elementary School in Joliet, Ill., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, during Pres. Joe Biden’s visit where he spoke about lowering the price of prescription drugs and protecting Medicare and Social Security.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Underwood, from Naperville, is seeking a third term in a district that is about 70% new to her, the result of Democratic mapmakers in Springfield jettisoning the toughest portions of her current 14th district in order to make her 2022 re-election easier. She won a second term in 2020 with a mere 50.67% of the vote.

She faces Republican Scott Gryder of Oswego, the president of the Kendall County Board and chairman of the county’s Republican Party. He is also the president and a senior counsel at the Near North Title Group.

Gryder, reacting to Biden’s “idiot” comment, said in a Saturday statement: “Underwood owes her constituents an apology and should be ashamed of what was said.”

Biden won the new 14th by 10 points in 2020, but the political climate in 2022 is not the same, and an expected red wave in blue state Illinois gives Underwood a tougher race than the mapmakers envisioned.

Biden has a history of helping Underwood. Biden headlined a get-out-the-vote rally in St. Charles for Underwood in October 2018, days before her first election, where she turned a red district blue. In July, 2021, Biden touted Underwood during his first trip to Illinois as president, at McHenry County College, a community college in Crystal Lake — an area no longer in Underwood’s district.

Biden’s blue state travels while Obama’s been dispatched to the swing states drew this comment Saturday from Republican National Committee spokesperson Emma Vaughn: “Democrats are in despair as Joe Biden sinks Democrats’ midterm hopes. Add Illinois to the list of states now up for grabs because of Joe Biden and Illinois Democrats’ reckless agenda of soaring prices, higher taxes, and out-of-control crime.”

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Suzanne Stegeman, executive director of Kendall County Community Food Pantry, speaks to a reporter at Jones Elementary School in Joliet, Ill., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, during Pres. Joe Biden’s visit where he spoke about lowering the price of prescription drugs and protecting Medicare and Social Security.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Suzanne Stegeman, 61, from Aurora — the portion of the city in Underwood’s new district — is the executive director of the Kendall County Food Pantry, and one of several hundred people in the gym.

Asked about the impact of Biden’s visit on Underwood’s bid — and the state of the contest with Gryder — Stegeman noted all the new territory in Underwood’s district and the fact that Gryder is well known in Kendall County.

As for Biden coming to Illinois — he’s hitting eight states in eight days — Stegeman said, “I think that it shows how important the race is… Obviously, he’s only got so much time, right? And if he is coming here, he is coming here because this is important, just a few days before the election.”

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