14th Congressional District Democratic nominee: Lauren Underwood
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Democratic challenger Lauren Underwood is the Chicago Sun-Times’ endorsed candidate in the 14th Congressional District race.
On Sept. 20, Democrat Lauren Underwood appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. Watch the video above to find out why she’s running for the 14th Congressional District seat in Illinois in the 2018 general election.
The Sun-Times also sent the candidates seeking the 14th Congressional District seat a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing their district and the country. Underwood submitted the following responses:
As a member of the U.S. House, what are or would be your top cause or causes?
Underwood: I am a 31-year-old registered nurse and health policy expert from Naperville running for Congress to be a champion for middle class families. I have spent my career expanding access to quality, affordable healthcare and helping communities prevent and prepare for public health emergencies like Zika and Ebola.
Three core issues guide my campaign:
Healthcare: My experience as a healthcare provider informed my belief that every American has the right to high-quality, affordable healthcare. I aim to implement reforms to make healthcare more affordable for middle class families, such as empowering the federal government to negotiate fair prices for prescription drugs.
Jobs: Families across the 14th District deserve good, high-paying jobs and a strong local economy. In order for the economy to work for all of our families, we need a broad approach to job creation that includes small business investments, local infrastructure rehabilitation and support for the clean energy economy.
Family: Maintaining the safety and security of northern Illinois families is paramount. Every child in the 14th district should have the access to an excellent public education and feel safe in school. Advocating for our families also means that we must prioritize affordable childcare, paid family leave and equal pay while ensuring access to reproductive healthcare.
It’s time for the 14th District to have a representative who works relentlessly for middle class families. We have gone without effective representation for too long.
Who is Lauren Underwood?
She’s running for: U.S. House of Representatives, 14th District
Her political/civic background:
- Appointee in the Administration of President Barack Obama. Senior Advisor, October 2016 – January 2017 Special Assistant, November 2014 – October 2016
- Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- City of Naperville Fair Housing Advisory Commission, 2003 – 2004
Her occupation: Registered Nurse, Health Policy Expert
- Neuqua Valley High School Naperville, IL 2004
- University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI 2008 – BSN
- Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD 2009 – MSN/MPH
Campaign website: underwoodforcongress.com
Please list three highly specific needs of your district that you would make priorities.
Underwood: Hyper-partisanship in the Congress has created an environment in which common sense policy solutions that would benefit our families don’t even receive a vote.
Here are three issues that I intend to make progress on:
Mental health care: We must invest in comprehensive mental healthcare for our community in order to tackle the opioid addiction crisis. This problem will not be solved by law enforcement solutions alone – addressing the underlying behavioral health components of addiction is critical. We must curb future addictions and we cannot forget those who are currently struggling without access to much needed treatment. We need to pass legislation that will reduce cost barriers to treatment, and that will ensure Medicaid and health insurance cover both detox and rehab.
Paid family leave: For too long, we have seen no movement on a range of non-partisan economic security issues that predominantly affect women. These include paid family and sick leave, affordable child care services and equal pay. We need representatives who are willing to put their political capital on the line to fight for these issues, not merely offer supportive rhetoric.
Modernizing our local infrastructure: From rehabbing highways and bridges, to supporting Metra commuter rail stops for DeKalb and Kendall counties, infrastructure investment can improve our quality of life and public safety throughout the 14th District, and stimulate significant job growth.
These are each issues with bipartisan support that would serve the 14th District and communities across the country — we deserve a representative who can get results.
Bipartisanship is virtually non-existent in the House. What would you do about that?
Underwood: The country needs new leaders who can put partisanship aside and make progress on the issues that matter to our community.
In order to get results, we must elect leaders who are accountable to their communities, not corporate donors. My opponent speaks often of bipartisanship, but his rhetoric isn’t reflected in his voting record. The fact is that he votes with Donald Trump 96 percent of the time.
When elected, I plan to hold quarterly town hall meetings throughout the seven counties of the 14th District. I will always make myself accessible to our community members, as I have throughout this campaign. My opponent has failed in this regard: he went sixteen months without hosting a public event with his constituents. Invitation-only phone conversations are insufficient and exclusionary. I will always show up for the people of the 14th District — I am serious about being this community’s voice in Washington.
Are you convinced that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election in support of the candidacy of Donald Trump? Please explain.
Underwood: The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Security Agency (NSA) have shared their assessment that (1) Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at our presidential election and (2) Putin and the Russian government aspired to help President Trump.
I of course trust the assessment of our intelligence professionals. President Trump’s repeated dismissals of these facts are unacceptable, as is congressional Republicans’ politicization of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
We’ve known for a while that our state board of elections here in Illinois was penetrated by Russian hackers in 2016, compromising the personal information of thousands of Illinois voters. Hackers appear to be readying to do the same thing during our forthcoming midterms and our leaders have put few substantive measures in place to protect our elections. My opponent has voted numerous times to block congressional investigation into Russian meddling and voted against election security funding.
Free and fair elections are vital to our democracy, as is voters’ confidence in our elections. This is not a partisan issue: it’s an American issue.
An aggressive preparedness posture is required for the forthcoming election, beginning with federal resources to bolster security measures to protect sensitive voter information in each precinct. Congress should be doing everything in its power to ensure these security breaches never happen again and ensure our social media companies are held accountable when their algorithms boost false information.
We need leaders who will fight back against these attacks, not leave our democracy open to foreign manipulation. The current Congress has displayed an alarming complacency towards our vulnerable election systems. We must hold Russia, and any other adversary, accountable for their actions by applying sanctions, and swift penalties for these illegal activities.
Do you support the investigation being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller? Please explain.
Underwood: Free and fair elections are foundational to our democracy and we must fully investigate the interference in our 2016 election. Unlike my opponent, I support legislation to protect the special counsel from the president’s threats of political interference.
Special counsel Mueller has a distinguished record of service to our country and has shown himself to be measured and thoughtful throughout his investigation.
The American people deserve answers about what occurred during our 2016 elections, and a Congress committed to thoughtfully weighing the facts. Any collusion or criminal interference in our electoral process should be treated as an affront to our constitutional rights.
The president and my opponent’s unwillingness to put Mueller’s inquiry above partisan politics is simply unacceptable. On this and so many issues, we deserve better.
If President Trump were to fire Mueller, directly or indirectly, what should Congress do?
Underwood: The president has numerous times attempted to discredit and impede this investigation. We know from news reports that the president has already attempted to fire the special counsel.
I support legislation to protect the special counsel from the president’s threats of political interference.
If Trump were to pardon his former campaign aide Paul Manafort, what should Congress do?
Underwood: No one is above the law.
As of writing, Mr. Manafort has been found guilty of multiple financial crimes and is scheduled for a second trial on additional criminal charges. Mr. Manafort is of course entitled to due process.
The president has numerous times attempted to discredit the special counsel’s investigation and I understand from news reports that the special counsel is investigating potential obstruction of justice by President Trump. This investigation must continue free of political interference.
Which three actions taken so far by the Trump administration do you most strongly support?
Underwood: I welcomed the president’s campaign commitments to infrastructure investments, a paid family leave policy and work to clean up government corruption. Unfortunately, those commitments proved to be empty promises.
Instead of “draining the swamp,” President Trump has presided over the most corrupt administration in modern American history while Congress has neglected its duty to exercise oversight over the use of our taxpayer dollars.
The president’s former campaign chairman, personal lawyer and former national security advisory have each been implicated in felonies, multiple former cabinet officials have been accused of improper use of taxpayer dollars, and the president himself has been identified as an un-indicted co-conspirator in a federal crime.
Throughout my career as a federal employee and Obama administration appointee, I worked with some of the smartest, most dedicated policy experts in the country. My former colleagues are deeply committed to serving the American people and being thoughtful stewards of taxpayer dollars.
We are better than this, and we deserve better from our leaders.
Which three actions taken by the Trump administration do you most strongly disagree with?
Underwood: Hateful rhetoric and anti-immigrant policies has become commonplace under this administration. I strongly condemn the administration’s separation of immigrant children from their families at the border, their continued failure to reunite those families, the abrupt cessation of the DACA program, and the travel ban policy, all of which only serve to inflame divisions at home and alienate us from our allies abroad. The president’s open use of racial and religious animus have made us less safe, and Republicans in Congress have idly stood by.
This administration, aided by Republicans in Congress including my opponent, has further increased the divide between the wealthiest few and our country’s middle class with their $1.9 trillion debt-creating tax plan, all while attempting to strip us of our healthcare coverage. My opponent will argue that the economy is doing well, and it is, if you’re wealthy. The facts show that in 2018, real wages for the middle class have gone down while Wall Street is rewarding itself with stock buybacks.
I’ve been similarly dismayed to see this administration, emboldened by Republicans in Congress, take policy stances that don’t reflect science and don’t respect facts. From the denial of climate science to gutting our environmental protections, this administration seems to pay no mind to the fact that when our water, air and land become polluted, people get sick.
Families across our community deserve a representative who will stand up to the president when he proposes dangerous policies like taking away our healthcare or arming public school teachers. We need true leadership that will carry forward the voices and values of local families in the midst of the chaos and confusion of Trump’s Washington. My opponent claims that he stands up to the president, but his record shows the truth: he votes with President Trump 96 percent of the time.
This community deserves a government that acts in line with our shared values and a representative who is willing to stand up to the president.
The Trump administration has taken action to roll back Obama-era policies aimed at curbing climate change and limiting environmental pollution. The administration has done so in the name of supporting business growth and making the United States more energy self-sufficient. Most notably, the administration has begun to dismantle Obama’s federal rules over American coal plants, weakened automobile fuel-economy standards and ended American participation in the Paris climate agreement. What is your take on all this?
Underwood: I’m a nurse — I know that environmental issues are public health issues — when our air, water and land are polluted, people get sick. In fact, the Trump Administration has admitted that its replacement for the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan will cause between 470 and 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 because of increased rates of air pollution.
Climate change is not only a public health challenge, it presents an existential threat to our way of life and is one of our most pressing national security issues. The impact of climate refugees, fights for basic resources like food and water caused by these events, and the increased numbers of public health emergencies and disasters, will pose real, destabilizing challenges — and we have a responsibility to curb these threats. I support expanded investment in and deployment of renewable energy projects, investment in public transportation projects, and a fully funded and appropriately staffed Environmental Protection Agency.
Our policy-making must be guided by science, and I’ve been disturbed to see the suppression of science under this administration. It’s the job of a public servant to work with scientists to identify effective public policy solutions. This administration, and their Republican partners in Congress, have buried their heads in the sand on the urgent environmental challenges we face. It is imperative that we treat these issues as the public health matters they are.
It was a mistake for the United States to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. In doing so, we ceded our international leadership role. We must recommit ourselves to innovating and leading on the world stage in the fight against the dangerous impacts of climate change. The future of our planet depends on it.
To what extent is climate change a man-made phenomenon? How serious is the threat to our children’s future? What should be done?
Underwood: Climate scientists tell us that the Earth’s temperature increases have been driven by excess greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans. This challenge is one of our most pressing national security issues and it’s imperative that our leaders approach policy-making in partnership with our nation’s scientists.
Ignoring the scientific evidence of climate change, as Congressional Republicans and President Trump do willingly, will only damage our national security, public health and economic standing in the future. Politicians must cease debating with scientists on this issue and work toward reducing carbon pollution and adapting to our changing climate. This problem will not go away if we ignore it — that unfortunately appears to be the administration’s approach.
We should codify the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever plan to curb harmful carbon pollution from U.S. power plants and defend pollution standards for automobiles that would allow consumers to save money on gas and significantly reduce pollution. The Trump Administration has proposed doing away with both of those policies.
Further, we must incentivize growth in the clean energy sector by investing in and protecting tax credits for the renewable energy industry. Illinois has become a leader in the clean energy economy, and the 14th District should be the local home for clean energy innovation, given our proximity to both the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the Illinois Research and Development Corridor.
Membership in the Climate Solutions Caucus should signal a commitment to the health of our climate, air, water and land. My opponent’s record does not reflect that commitment. Our future hangs in the balance, we can’t afford empty promises on this issue.
What is the single most important action Congress can take to curb gun violence?
Underwood: A decade after five students were killed and 17 injured at Northern Illinois University (NIU) with legally purchased firearms, our community is still waiting for common sense congressional action on gun violence. I have been devastated by the lack of political courage on this issue, and am particularly disturbed my opponent’s inaction.
We need universal background checks for all gun sales — this is a proposition that 94 percent of voters support, according to a 2017 Quinnipiac survey. The current system includes loopholes that make it easy for people with criminal records and dangerous mental illnesses to buy guns. In the tragic example of NIU, two of the weapons used to perpetrate the murders were purchased legally less than a week before the attack.
My opponent has consistently voted against common sense measures to close gun safety loopholes, including a measure to prevent individuals on the ‘no fly terrorist watch list’ list from buying a firearm and a measure to keep guns out of the hands of people deemed mentally ill by the Social Security Administration.
In the face of these tragedies, my opponent offers his thoughts and prayers. We need action.
The Second Amendment to our Constitution clearly outlines a right to bear arms: that’s not what’s at issue here. This is about an epidemic of gun violence in this country and palpable fear in schools across this district. Our children are literally marching for their lives: we must respond with legislation.
Congress must embrace common sense gun safety measures, the people of IL-14 already have.
Is the media the “enemy of the people”? Please explain.
Underwood: President Trump’s remarks about the media are part of a larger assault on our First Amendment rights including freedom of the press, free speech, free assembly and freedom of religion. His anti-democratic statements, unwillingness to engage with the media and overt lies are unacceptable, as is the Congress’ unwillingness to exercise oversight over the administration.
The president’s statements that journalists are “the enemy of the people” are dangerous and deserve censure, particularly in the wake of the murders of five newspaper employees in Maryland.
The representative for the 14th District has a sworn duty to protect and defend the Constitution, including these First Amendment rights. I will honor that oath.
As an editorial board, our core criticism of the tax overhaul legislation pushed through Congress last December is that it lowers taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans at a time of historic inequalities of wealth and income in the United States. We believe in free markets, but the ‘silent hand’ of the market does not seem to be rewarding merit fairly. What’s your position on last December’s rewrite of the tax code? Would you push for further changes, or for the law’s repeal?
Underwood: Tax reform should be simple and fair, putting the middle class and small businesses first. The Republican tax plan does the opposite, overwhelmingly favoring corporations and the wealthiest few, all while exploding the national deficit.
Economic growth must touch all of our families — not just the wealthiest Americans. My opponent will argue that Illinois families are feeling the benefits of this plan, and that’s true for the wealthiest among us. But for the middle class, wage growth is flat, and the majority of small business owners will not be able to hire new employees or give raises as a result of the Republican plan (Businesses for Responsible Tax Reform data).
Under the Republican plan, families are seeing higher tax burdens all across the 14th due to restrictions on popular deductions, including the state and local tax (SALT) deduction. Nearly half — 48.6 percent — of the households in the 14th claimed the SALT deduction in 2014 (Tax Policy Center data).
In 2015, the average SALT deduction in the 14th District was $14,453 (Government Finance Officers Association data). That puts local filers a good $4,000 over the new $10,000 SALT deduction cap.
For too long, middle class families across northern Illinois have been overburdened with tax hikes from Springfield. Our community deserves a leader who seeks real solutions to create jobs and improve our local economy. Instead, my opponent once again put politics ahead of thousands of families in our community. From Antioch to Warrenville, folks spoke out against the Republican Tax Plan and we were ignored by our representative. That’s unacceptable.
Speaking of income inequality, top executives of America’s biggest companies saw their average annual pay surge to $18.9 million in 2017, even as the pay of ordinary workers has remained flat for a decade. What, if anything, should be done to address the growing gap in wealth and income?
Underwood: The hold of special interests and big corporations on Washington has led to rules written in a way that makes them rich. Congress needs a new approach that puts middle class families first, that starts with the election of representatives whose allegiance is to the middle class, not corporate donors.
One of my largest concerns about the Republican Tax Plan is that Congressional Republicans, including my opponent, will use the trillion dollar deficit that ensued to justify cuts to the Social Security and Medicare benefits that folks in the 14th have worked all their careers to earn. The gutting of these benefits to fund a corporate tax cut will only increase income inequality in this country. Having a strong middle class means we must continue to support programs like Medicare and Social Security and make sure these benefits remain available to all who are eligible.
A commitment to a strong middle class further necessitates commitments to worker protections and public education. I believe we should be making it easier for students to afford college by increasing our investment in higher education institutions. I support increased funding for Pell grants, increased availability of affordable subsidized student loans, and the continuance of the public service loan forgiveness program. Higher education should not be a privilege of a certain class of people and we must address the student loan crisis now before it prevents many of my fellow millennials or Generation Z students from reaching financial goals and milestones like homeownership or retirement later in life.
Would it be appropriate at this time for President Trump to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit the White House? Why so, or why not?
Underwood: It would be highly inappropriate to host Vladimir Putin at the White House while Russia is reportedly attempting to interfere in our 2018 elections and there is an ongoing investigation into potential collusion with Russia by Trump campaign associates during our 2016 elections. If such an invitation is extended, I believe Congressional leaders should take formal action to rebuke the president. A visit to the White House is an honor that Putin does not deserve.
How would you assess and grade the Trump administration’s efforts to recalibrate our nation’s relationships with Korea, NATO and Russia?
Underwood: Diplomacy and leadership, backed by a strong military, are critical to deterring actors like Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin. I disagree strongly with the Trump Administration’s actions to hollow out our diplomatic corps, particularly at such a critical time for American foreign policy.
The Trump Administration has effectively weakened our country’s ability to act diplomatically by delegitimizing the work of our diplomats and intelligence officials all while proposing steep budget cuts to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). At the same time, the president has threatened war over Twitter while the Congress has utterly abdicated its constitutional responsibility to provide oversight and guidance on matters of foreign policy.
I’m deeply alarmed that President Trump has become closer to autocrats and dictators while picking fights with our closest NATO allies. The United States is strongest when it leads the world through the force of our example, and with the president’s leadership, we’re losing our ability to lead.
In late June, the Supreme Court upheld the Trump administration’s travel ban on visitors and immigrants from seven countries, five of which have Muslim majorities. What is your view on this ban?
Underwood: The United States was founded upon the principle of religious liberty — it’s a right guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution. The Supreme Court’s decision is contrary to that foundational promise.
As Justice Sotomayor stated in her statement of dissent, there are troubling parallels in this decision to the court’s 1944 ruling that that upheld the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Immigrants enrich our country and are a vital members of our 14th District community. Discriminatory policies such as this ban only serve to divide us from one another and reinforce corrosive stereotypes against the Muslim community. Thanks to members of Islamic Centers across our District, I know Islam to be a religion of peace, generosity and family.
We know from history that discriminatory policies are not national security solutions and often have the effect of making us less safe. We are better than this.
What three major reforms should be made to United States immigration policy?
Underwood: Immigrants have been vital to the cultural fabric and economic success of America since our nation’s founding. I’m proud to say that the 14th District is home to more than 1,700 entrepreneurs who immigrated to this country while world-class science organizations like Fermilab attract the best and brightest researchers from around the globe.
Our policies must honor and recognize the value and dignity of all of our immigrant communities and I strongly condemn the racist rhetoric and anti-immigrant policies that have become commonplace under this administration.
Simple, structural barriers such as the president’s proposed border wall will not solve this complex, multi-faceted problem, nor will the termination of the DACA program or the practice of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border solve this issue. As I write, more than 400 migrant children remain separated from their parents. Some of those children are younger than five. As a health professional, I know the trauma inflicted upon these kids will likely last a lifetime.
Yet, Republicans in Congress have done nothing to hold administration officials responsible for implementing this policy without a plan to reunite families. This is an unacceptable dereliction of duty.
I support comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders, offers a solution for young DREAMers who only know the United States as their home and offers hardworking immigrants a pathway to citizenship. My opponent, in contrast, has voted at least 18 times to block consideration of the DREAM Act and voted in favor of ending the DACA program in 2015. He has had eight years to demonstrate he’s serious about fixing our immigration system and he has nothing to show for it. It’s time for real leadership on this issue — we need a comprehensive solution now.
Do you support or oppose the family-based immigration policy sometimes called “chain migration”? Please explain.
Underwood: The history of the United States is a history of families migrating to this country to create a better life — that is the American Dream. I wholeheartedly reject this term and the notion that it is somehow wrong for families to immigrate to the United States to contribute and seek a better life. We need comprehensive immigration reform now.
What would you do, as a member of Congress, to improve race relations in the United States?
Underwood: I aspire to be a bold representative for our community, someone who is wholly responsive and accountable to her constituents. For too long, our community has gone without effective representation because our congressman puts partisanship before people. His record shows he is more interested in following the Republican party line and pleasing his corporate donors than engaging with his constituents.
I am a 31-year-old woman of color who grew up in this community. I learned how to be a black woman in Naperville. Demographic shifts in our country mean that that millennials, communities of color and women are becoming a larger part of the electorate. By 2019, millennials — the most racially diverse adult generation in American history — are projected to surpass the Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest generation. (Pew Research Center data). When elected, I would be the first representative for the IL-14 who represents those three groups, and I intend to lead by example.
What is the biggest difference between you and your opponent?
Underwood: Randy Hultgren is a career politician with little to show for it, while I have made my career in healthcare.
I was working for a Medicaid managed care company in Chicago when I found myself at my opponent’s one and only public event of 2017. During that spring, the Congress took a series of healthcare repeal votes. I was watching the debate closely as a healthcare professional and a woman who was concerned about her own healthcare coverage. During that springtime public event more than a year ago, my opponent made a promise. He promised that he wouldn’t support a bill that didn’t provide affordable coverage options for people with pre-existing conditions. That promise was important to me, and I took him at his word.
Just a few weeks later, he cast one of the deciding votes for the American Healthcare Act, a version of repeal that would have made care unaffordable for those of us with pre-existing conditions.
I was very upset. Not only had he cast a vote that would harm his constituents, but he had broken his word. And I’m not willing to accept that. This community deserves better.
A representative should be transparent and honest about their votes, and make themselves accessible to our community. That’s what I’ve done throughout this campaign and that’s what I vow to do when I’m elected to Congress.
Ahead of the historic 2018 elections, the Sun-Times is teaming up weekly with the Better Government Association, in print and online, to fact-check the truthfulness of the candidates. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.