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Kinzinger warns about Russia. Kirk: No ‘white Republicans’ on AF1

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., was one of many elected officials who attended the Illinois State Society of Washington's inaugural ball Thursday night. | Suzanne McBride/For the Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., slammed former Sen. Mark Kirk’s plan to open a consulting firm; Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., warned Donald Trump not to be duped by Russia; and Kirk said “white” Republicans like himself could never score a ride from President Barack Obama on Air Force One.

And that was before dinner Thursday at the Illinois State Society of Washington inaugural ball. News broke out on a variety of fronts at the ball on the eve of Republican Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th president of the United States.

The quadrennial Illinois bash here was far more sedate than the roaring parties in 2009 and 2013 for Obama’s inaugurals, when top political figures from both parties of Obama’s home state turned out. GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, continuing to keep his distance from Trump, stayed home.

KIRK PUSHING SESSIONS ON FARDON

Kirk, defeated by Duckworth, is pushing Trump’s Attorney General nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to retain U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon, because the Chicago-based federal prosecutor is a good “corruption fighter” for the state.

“I said to him, ‘Zach, you’re the last hope for keeping our state from being a banana republic.’ ”

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., as the senior Republican in the Illinois delegation, will get the call on recommendations to send to the Trump White House. Still, Kirk said he has Sessions’ ear. “I had a pretty good relationship” with Sessions, Kirk said.

Kirk said he will “probably” be setting up a firm to do “strategic consulting” for large Illinois employers doing business in Washington and Beijing. He will travel to Beijing next month with other former senators on a Chinese government-sponsored trip. With Republicans in charge of the House, Senate and White House, GOP lobbyists and “strategic” consultants will be in demand.

Kirk remains outspoken. His gaffes got him in political trouble. Asked if he ever got a ride with Obama on Air Force One, Kirk said, “white Republicans really didn’t get to go on that kind of trip.”

DUCKWORTH: NO REVOLVING DOOR

Duckworth was asked if she was concerned about Kirk setting up a consulting shop.

Duckworth, who moved up from the House, said, “I’ve always been worried about those things, and in fact, in the House Armed Services Committee I fought very hard to prevent retiring general officers from leaving the Pentagon and turning right around and coming back to be lobbyists on the Hill. . . . It’s why I voted against the waiver for General [James] Mattis, for example,” a reference to Trump’s pick for Defense secretary, who needs congressional approval for a waiver to be in the Cabinet because he has not been out of the military for the requisite seven years.

Should he reconsider? Said Duckworth, “I think Mark Kirk does want he wants to do.”

VICE FOLLOWING KINZINGER

Vice News is following around the telegenic Kinzinger for an inauguration piece. Kinzinger, who had massive reservations about Trump, said he did not vote for his fellow Republican or Democrat Hillary Clinton.

But he is giving Trump a chance. “I’m optimistic. I’m going to support him in every way I can, and I’m going to oppose him when I need to. As a Republican, domestically, we have some opportunities to do some really big things, we have an opportunity to rebuild our military, which I’m excited about. But areas where there are concerns, we’ll continue to be vocal, and I hope I don’t have to do it that much.”

He strongly disagreed with Trump’s friendly approach to Russia.

“Look, there’s no room for the United States to try another reset with Russia. We’ve seen twice in the past under two different administrations that it’s failed. Russia will only act like they’re interested in being your friend as long as it benefits them. Look, this is a country the size of Italy in terms of their economy. So this idea that they’re somehow our match or our equal in the world isn’t true.”

Russia, said Kinzinger, is “a country nothing more than a gas can that wants to rebuild its own Soviet empire.”

ROSKAM ON OBAMACARE REPEAL

With Republicans ready to repeal Obamacare — without a ready replacement for the health insurance program — Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., promised a “smooth and thoughtful” transition. He’s a member of the Ways and Means Committee, one of the House panels with a say in crafting a new health coverage plan.

“The creation of the ACA took a considerable bit of time,” Roskam said. “And now its replacement has to take a reasonable period of time.”