The ReSisterhood had the privilege yesterday of attending Senator Tammy Duckworth’s town hall meeting in Bloomington. Duckworth is the first Thai-American to serve in the United States Senate and one of three newly elected female senators of color, having defeated incumbent Mark Kirk by a 15 percentage points on November 8, 2016. (Kirk made headlines for his racist mockery of Duckworth during a debate last October, remarking, “I forgot your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington” in spite of the fact that Duckworth’s paternal ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War.) Her military service spanned 1992–2014, and she is known for the injuries she received in the Iraq War when the helicopter she was co-piloting was hit by an RPG. She earned a Purple Heart for her bravery. In addition to being the first disabled person to serve in the House of Representatives (2013–2017), she also got her PhD in March 2015. Needless to say, we were thrilled to see this history-making woman in person.
For over an hour, Duckworth addressed questions from the audience, which filled every available seat in Illinois Wesleyan’s Hansen Student Center. Many of her remarks focused on preserving and expanding social programs in America, how they both save money in the long-term and allow every American to achieve their full potential. She quoted a Pentagon study which recently found that 71% of current young military-age Americans do not qualify to serve. Some are excluded because of addiction to opioids or other substances, while others cannot pass basic science and math requirements. Still others have preventable medical conditions like asthma. Social programs help prevent disqualifying conditions, but it is these very programs that are under threat from the Trump administration.
Duckworth congratulated all of the voters who had been marching, making phone calls, and taking action since November 8th. “You are truly making a difference,” she said, to resounding applause. She stressed the importance of sending messages to representatives you agree with as well as the ones you don’t: when representatives go to Washington, D.C., they carry those concerns with them to Capitol Hill.
Another topic that came up several times was the future of healthcare in America. Duckworth indicated that she is willing to reach across the aisle to reform healthcare, but that she will not lower existing standards of the Affordable Care Act, which are already far below those of other developed nations. She talked about two “red herrings” that the Republican Party uses in its ongoing repeal and replace proposal. First, they suggest grouping individuals with preexisting conditions into high-risk pools. They maintain that access to insurance would be preserved, but Duckworth pointed out that those with preexisting conditions would no longer be able to afford premiums. To drive her point home, she joked that she could go to a Bentley dealership and have a range of choices before her, but it didn’t mean that she had the ability to pay for any of them. Second, the GOP wants people to have the option to buy insurance across state lines even though coverage rules are not the same across all states. An insurance company in one state might force you to pay for your own medical prosthesis, for instance, while the same prosthesis would be covered by insurance in a different state. (Furthermore, as Dick Durbin pointed out in his own recent town hall, no one wants to drive across state lines to be admitted to a hospital during a medical emergency!)
Duckworth provided insight into what it is like to be on the front-lines of Capitol Hill with the Trump administration now in power. Answering a question about the Trump family’s business conflicts of interest, Duckworth noted that several lawsuits have been filed against the President for breach of the emolument clause. She used the POTUS’s frequent Mar-a-Lago trips as an example. The estate has been making an enormous profit from the presidential visits, since the Secret Service and other Trump attendants must book hotel rooms, purchase meals, and incur other expenses there. She also spoke of the President’s broken promises to voters. “He put the biggest swamp-dwellers in Capitol positions,” she said.
Finally, the senator emphasized the importance of female representation in government. Women in the Senate pass more legislation than their male counterparts and have more bipartisanship support for bills. She urged people, regardless of political stripe, to contact her office if they’re interesting in running for political office.
Afterwards, the ReSisterhood had the opportunity to take a group photo with the distinguished senator. We hope to interview her for a new feature for the Resisterhood blog, coming soon.