On Jan. 15, Lauren Underwood appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked her why she’s running for the Democratic seat in the 14th Congressional district of Illinois in the March 2018 primary:

Good morning. My name is Lauren Underwood. I’m running for Congress in the Illinois 14th Congressional District. I’m from Naperville and I’m a registered nurse and an Obama alumn.

So I’m running for Congress to fight for healthcare. We need to stabilize our health insurance markets and make sure that families all across northern Illinois have access to the health coverage that they need to have healthy and well lives. Also fighting for strong jobs and higher wages, public schools and all the causes that are of impact to Northern Illinois families.

I believe we must, we must, fix our healthcare system. First, we need to stabilize the Affordable Care Act. We need to make it more affordable for middle class families. Lower drug prices and then think about expansion opportunities.


The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for Congress a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois. Lauren Underwood submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:

QUESTION: As a member of the House from Illinois, please explain what your specific cause or causes will be. Please avoid a generic topic or issue in your answer.

ANSWER:

Jobs / Economic Security

Families across the IL-14 deserve good, high-paying jobs and a strong local economy. For the economy to work for all our families, we need a broad approach to job creation. We need to invest in small businesses; we need to incentivize employers to hire out-of-work or underemployed individuals; and we need to invest in infrastructure improvements as well as new and emerging sectors that can generate jobs for the 21st century. Additionally, we need leaders who are going to fight for a “nonpartisan” economic security agenda, which includes equal pay, affordable child care, paid family leave, full reproductive health care and an increased minimum wage. Imagine the impact on the economy if every parent who wanted to work could afford to do so and every worker were fairly compensated for their labor? These issues affect all working families and direct action has the potential to positively impact our community immediately.

Healthcare

I believe that healthcare is a human right and that every American should have access to high quality, affordable healthcare. This belief has been foundational to my career as a nurse and in government. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we saw a historic drop in the uninsured rate, which means millions of families no longer have to worry about being one bad diagnosis away from bankruptcy. In the 14th district, 37,000 hardworking folks have coverage through Obamacare – and their access to health insurance is under attack right now. I am committed, first and foremost, to ensuring that these individuals maintain the coverage they need. I know that the Affordable Care Act is not perfect, and I support policies that will improve the law, including:

  • Stabilizing the health insurance marketplaces by providing long-term commitments to cost-sharing reductions, including more help for middle class families
  • Reigning in the soaring cost of prescription drugs
  • Investing in comprehensive mental health care
  • Offering additional coverage opportunities to uninsured individuals

Like many communities across the country, the 14th has been impacted by the opioid epidemic. This problem will not be solved by law enforcement solutions alone – addressing the underlying behavioral health components of addiction is critical. To tackle this crisis, we need everyone to come to the table to implement a fully funded, comprehensive solution that will address prevention, treatment, and recovery. We must curb future addictions, but we also 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. Inaction on this issue is not an option.

Families are the backbone of our society; therefore, it is essential that women and men have the freedom to plan the family they want. I support unrestricted access to the full range of reproductive health services.

Education

I believe that every child deserves a high quality public education. Here in the 14th district we have excellent public schools, but this requires continued investment. Additionally, 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.


Lauren Underwood

Running for:  14th Congressional district (Illinois)

Political/civic background: Appointee in the Administration of President Barack Obama.

Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, US Department of Health and Human Services, October 2016 – January 2017

Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, US Department of Health and Human Services, November 2014 – October 2016

Occupation: Registered Nurse

Education:  University of Michigan, Bachelor of Science in Nursing Johns Hopkins University, Master of Science in Nursing/Master of Public Health

Campaign website: underwoodforcongress.com 


QUESTION: Please list three district-specific needs that will be your priorities. This could be a project that is needed in your district, or a rule that needs to be changed, or some federal matter that has been ignored.

ANSWER: For too long, we have seen no movement on a range of non-partisan economic security issues that predominantly affect women. This includes equal pay, paid family and sick leave, and affordable child care services. We need representatives who are willing to put their political capital on the line to fight for these issues, not merely talk about them. I’m ready to fight for families across northern Illinois and deliver impact on these important issues.

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QUESTION: If you are running as a Democrat, what is your best idea for getting any initiative you may propose advanced if the House continues to be controlled by the GOP after the 2018 elections?

ANSWER: To have impact, I will be a relentless and resourceful advocate for the people of the 14th district. Collaboration will be essential, and I will be ready to negotiate with my colleagues in order to govern, which the Congress has been reluctant to do for some time.

TOPIC: President Donald Trump

QUESTION: What do you make of President Trump?

ANSWER: I think our President is in over his head and frequently lashes out, making impulsive decisions and statements. Despite his temperamental flaws, we need him to be effective for the American people, and I hope he begins to champion issues that will help our 14th district community.

QUESTION: Which three actions by the Trump administration do you support the most? Which three do you oppose the most?

ANSWER: I support firing Steve Bannon, firing Michael Flynn, and highlighting the importance of American manufacturing (“buy American”).

I oppose the Muslim travel ban, the discriminatory policies regarding transgender service members, and removing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.

QUESTION: What is your view of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian tampering in the 2016 election, including possible collusion by the Trump campaign. Does Mueller have your support?

ANSWER: Mr. Mueller has my complete support. I believe he should have the resources and ability to complete his investigation without interference or intimidation. I look forward to critically reviewing the results of his investigation.

TOPIC: Terrorism

QUESTION: What should Congress do to reduce the threat of terrorism at home, either from ISIS or from others?

ANSWER: Despite progress to contain ISIS, we must remain vigilant in our efforts to protect Americans domestically and abroad. Central to this effort is continuing to uplift and support our intelligence and law enforcement agencies who serve to keep us secure, often at great risk to their own personal safety. These intelligence and law enforcement officers have halted countless domestic attacks and this work must continue.

The radicalization of individuals at home and abroad is often influenced by socio-economic conditions, whether poverty, inequality, repression, war, bigotry, or islamophobia. We must continue intervene to address these factors, and I strongly support the United Nations recent initiative focused on addressing root causes of violent extremism.

Finally, the United States must maintain our preparedness against bioterror agents. Our continued investment in countermeasure development and maintaining an adequate pipeline of products will allow our country to be nimble as we respond to future terror threats.

TOPIC: Guns and violence

QUESTION: What is the single most important action Congress can take to curb gun violence in the United States?

ANSWER: We have a moral obligation to address the gun violence epidemic that is threatening communities across our country. First, we absolutely need universal background checks for all gun sales, whether through federal licenses, over the internet, or through private exchanges. The current system includes loopholes that make it easy for criminals and dangerously mentally ill to buy guns; it’s just common sense to fix this vulnerability. Additionally, individuals who have existing legal actions regarding threats of violence (ie. restraining orders) should not be permitted to purchase new firearms. This is a public safety issue of critical importance, and I have been so disappointed in the lack of courage or congressional action on this issue. We deserve better.

QUESTION: Do you favor a law banning the sale and use of “bump stocks” that increase the firing speed of semi-automatic weapons? Why? Do you favor any further legal limits on guns of any kind? Or, conversely, what gun restrictions should be done away with?

ANSWER: Of course, I support the bump stock ban, because Congress has a duty to protect American lives. It is common sense.

Our country should not be numb to the horrific frequency of mass shootings and related acts of gun violence. I am personally tired of reacting with perfunctory “thoughts and prayers” after horrific acts of gun violence. I believe we must honor the victims and survivors with action. When automobile accidents took too many American lives each year, we intervened with research and then fact-based policy regulations for seat belts and airbags. There is no reason we should be unable to do the same with respect to gun violence. It’s a safety issue.

Additionally, we need to treat gun violence like the epidemic that it truly is. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should be able to complete epidemiologic studies on the impact of gun violence on populations and study the psychological triggers or signs that lead to gun violence. For example, we know that gun violence is the third leading cause of death for children in our country, and we have an obligation to keep them safe and reduce these deaths. These important, science-based research initiatives can take place without infringing upon any citizen’s second amendment rights. I respect the second amendment and believe in protecting all of our rights as Americans.

TOPIC: America’s growing wealth gap

QUESTION: As an editorial board, our core criticism of the tax overhaul legislation supported by the Republican majorities in the House and Senate 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 it does not look to us like the “silent hand” of the market is functioning properly, rewarding merit fairly. We are troubled that the top 1 percent of Americans own 38.6 percent of the nation’s wealth and the bottom 90 percent own just 22.8 percent of the wealth. Tell us how we are right or wrong about this. Does the growing income and wealth gap trouble you?

ANSWER: Income inequality is a significant concern, that will only get worse under the GOP tax plan. Instead of raising taxes on the middle class, the Congress needs to be focused on creating an economy that works for all Americans. The cornerstone of economic security is equal pay. Closing the gender wage gap is a priority, and I support interventions such as raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. To complement this, we must pass legislation to establish paid family and sick leave, and ensure families can access affordable child care, so that all parents who want to work are able to do so.

We must also increase access to capital for the lowest income Americans:

Expanded funding for the Pell grant program: working families should not be priced out of higher education opportunities.

Greater support to purchase homes: homeownership has been the single greatest wealth generator for middle class families, yet remains out of reach for many Americans, especially millennials

Bringing more resources to entrepreneurs: small business is the backbone of our economy, yet too often women and people of color struggle to access capital to start or scale a business. Entrepreneurship has always been a central aspect of the American dream, and we need to make sure it continues to be accessible for all.

TOPIC: International affairs

QUESTION: Do you support the Trump administration’s decision to move the United States embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? How will this help or hinder efforts to secure a lasting peace between Israel and its Middle East neighbors?

ANSWER: In Congress, I will work to keep the strong bond between the United States and Israel. I strongly condemn the Trump Administration’s premature and divisive move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. My priority is to work towards a two-state solution, a pathway whereby Israel and the Palestinians can realize equitable and durable peace.

QUESTION: Is military action by the United States a plausible response to the nuclear weapons threat posed by North Korea? How might a U.S. military response play out for South Korea, Japan and China? What alternative do you support?

ANSWER: Fundamentally, the United States needs to adopt a foreign policy position with North Korea that does not escalate tensions. President Trump’s reckless taunting of Kim Jong Un presents a clear and present danger to our national security and to the stability of our relationships on the peninsula.

Diplomacy and leadership, backed by a strong military, are critical to deterring further aggression by the North Korean regime. This means investing in our State Department and diplomatic programs to strengthen our relationships with South Korea, Japan, and China, and work to combat the threat of the North Korean nuclear activity. It also means treating this situation with the gravity it deserves — and not picking fights with a dangerous, nuclear armed dictator on Twitter.

Congress needs to step up oversight in foreign affairs. At a time when Kim Jong Un has reportedly developed missiles that can reach all of the United States, the Congress must be willing to assert its War Powers responsibilities to ensure we only enter a conflict with North Korea when the data and intelligence unimpeachably suggest a valid and credible threat.

We must also be ready to defend ourselves, and this means that the United States must continue to invest in radiological and nuclear countermeasure development under Project Bioshield. We must be prepared in the event of an attack. 

TOPIC: Immigration

QUESTION: The Supreme Court has ruled that the third version of the Trump administration’s travel ban on eight countries with predominantly Muslim populations can go into effect while legal challenges against the ban continue. What is your position on this travel ban?

ANSWER: On January 27, 2017, the Trump Administration issued an executive order that suspended admission of refugees and restricted travel from seven (later revised) Muslim-majority countries. This followed a campaign statement: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what [expletive] is going on.”

This ban is discriminatory at its core. Of the eight countries included in the latest policy, we shouldn’t expect any change in travel patterns from two nations, Venezuela and North Korea. But the impact on the six majority-Muslim countries is enormous. It is a devastating policy for all Americans, and it flies in the face of the constitutional principle of religious equality.

The Trump Administration has gone too far, and I hope the Supreme Court quickly halts this policy for good. As Americans, we’re better than this.

QUESTION: Has the United States in the last decade been accepting too many immigrants, and does this pose a threat to the American way of life?

ANSWER: Immigrants have been vital to the cultural fabric and economic success of America since our nation’s founding. Our policies must honor and recognize the value and dignity of all of our immigrant communities and I strongly condemn the hurtful and divisive rhetoric that has become commonplace under the new administration.

We must take immediate action to pass comprehensive immigration reform, including re-evaluating which countries receive preferential immigration authority. I am eager to support policies that provide clear guidance around legal immigration, recognize existing economic and civic contributions of our immigrant communities, offer a pathway to citizenship, and decriminalize immigration enforcement action.

QUESTION: Should the “wall” between the United States and Mexico be built? What might it accomplish?

ANSWER: Our current immigration system is broken. Simple, structural barriers such as Trump’s proposed border wall, will not solve this complex, multi-faceted problem. It’s an expensive expenditure that takes away resources from effective interventions like border surveillance, radar technology and customs agents. President Trump sold the wall as an intervention that Mexico would pay for, something the Mexican president heartily rejected. I cannot support the construction of a structure rooted in racism, that wastes taxpayer resources and isolates the United States from our global trade partners.

TOPIC: Affordable Care Act

QUESTION: The tax reform plan created by Republican majorities in the House and Senate would eliminate the Obamacare “individual mandate” that most Americans must have health insurance or pay a fine. Does this threaten the viability of the Affordable Care Act? What more on this, if anything, should be done?

ANSWER: Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we saw a historic drop in the uninsured rate, which means millions of families no longer have to worry about being one bad diagnosis away from bankruptcy. In the 14th district, 37,000 hardworking folks have coverage through Obamacare – and their access to health insurance is under attack right now. I am committed, first and foremost, to ensuring that these individuals maintain the coverage they need.

The provision in the tax plan will certainly destabilize the Marketplace when it takes effect in 2019. This is not what fixing the ACA looks like. I support policies that will improve the law, including:

Stabilizing the health insurance marketplaces by providing long-term commitment to cost-sharing reductions, and an incentive for all Americans to maintain insurance coverage;

Properly funding risk pools so that more insurers will offer plans on the marketplace;

Helping more middle-class families afford coverage by expanding eligibility for tax credits and cost-sharing reductions;

Reigning in the soaring cost of prescription drugs; and

Investing in comprehensive mental health coverage.

Every American has the right to high quality, affordable health care. As we work to improve our healthcare system, we should have a nurse at the table fighting for improvements that enable families across Illinois to lead healthy lives.

TOPIC: The opponent(s)

QUESTION: What is your biggest difference with your opponent(s)?

I am the only candidate in the democratic primary with federal experience, the only candidate who has worked on Capitol Hill, and the only candidate who is ready to be a member of Congress on Day 1.

I am focused on delivering impact for the people of the 14th district, committed to being responsive, accessible, and to truly representing our values in Washington. My family first moved to Naperville in 1990. I proudly completed my elementary and high school education in this community, graduating from Neuqua Valley High School in 2004. I’m from this community and share the core values of hard work and integrity that unite the seven counties of the 14th district. We are not extremists. We respect facts and scientific reason.

This job requires the temperament, commitment, savvy and vigor to relentlessly fight for the families across northern Illinois. I am prepared to bring my experiences as a nurse, a woman, a policy expert, a millennial, and a person of color to represent this community, and I am the best person for the job.