Lipinski: Democrats in Congress Need to Watch Trump Closely
If you're having trouble telling fact from fiction these days, you're not alone. President Donald Trump says a lot of things. Some of them are true, some are lies, and a lot fall into a gray area in between.
Even members of Congress are struggling to get to the truth, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski told me on Thursday.
"It's been hard during these first few weeks to tell what's really going on and what's not true," Lipinski said. "I think it's important for Congressional Democrats to keep watch about what is going on as much as we can."
During a 30-minute conversation at his Orland Park district office, Lipinski addressed a range of topics. We focused on transportation and science — committees on which he serves — but also covered economic issues, health care, foreign policy, Trump's ethics conflicts and other concerns.
Lipinski said he supports Trump's position on some issues he campaigned on, including spending up to a trillion dollars to rebuild America's infrastructure. Despite its potential for bipartisan support, there hasn't been much of a legislative push for an infrastructure bill during the first three weeks of Trump's presidency.
"It seems the Congressional Republicans are not that eager to do the transportation bill … It's really Democrats in Congress who are pushing this," Lipinski told me. "President Trump keeps pushing them. For Republicans it's on the back burner.
"We need to come up with a plan and how to pay for it. It's not going to be easy but it's something I think needs to be done."
Lipinski serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and said the country needs to rebuild roads and bridges, fix water and sewer systems, invest in public transportation, and fund improvements to railroads, airports and shipping ports.
"We need a first-class transportation system," he said. "By doing this not only do we put people to work immediately, but the more efficient we can make our transportation system the more efficient we can make American businesses.
"It helps the economy. We need to focus on jobs. I think that's what the election was really about. Despite the unemployment rate being low, wages have not grown. That's a major concern."
Lipinski has represented the 3rd District since 2005. His district includes parts of Chicago's Beverly, Bridgeport and Mount Greenwood neighborhoods and several south and southwest suburbs. His constituents include people in Bridgeview, Burbank, Hickory Hills, Homer Glen, Justice, Lemont, Lockport, Oak Lawn, Palos Heights, Palos Hills, Romeoville, Worth and several other communities.
He's known as one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress. He's the only Democrat from Illinois who voted against the Affordable Care Act, and one of just three House Democrats who recently voted to prohibit spending federal funds for abortions.
Lipinski said he will oppose efforts to repeal President Barack Obama's health insurance law until a better replacement is proposed.
"Now, Republicans have full control of the House, Senate and White House and they are really on the spot," he said. "They've talked about repeal and replace for nearly seven years and they have not come up with a replacement.
"They're struggling to come up with a plan. I believe we need to fix it, not throw the whole thing out. Most Republicans have learned that. President Trump has said we need something better. The question is, what is better?"
He also serves on the Space, Science and Technology Committee and is ranking Democrat on the research and technology subcommittee. His district includes Argonne National Laboratory, and Lipinski said he's concerned the Trump administration might try to cut funding for science, especially research dealing with climate change.
"The No. 1 concern I have is that funding will be cut for alternative energy projects and clean energy," he said. "That we're going to move toward just helping the fossil fuel industry even more."
Lipinski can use his voice in Congress to address potential changes in policy on environmental protections. We talked about how immediately after the inauguration, the White House website was scrubbed of information about climate change.
"It's also important that we don't have a situation where — especially in climate change — where we have politicians stepping in and dictating what kind of scientific research is going to be done," Lipinski said.
"That's something I'm going to be watching out for, helping keep oversight over, and calling out anything wrong that I do see and fighting for the research funding we need."
Argonne hosts visiting international scientists, researchers and scholars. Lipinski said he hasn't heard about Argonne being directly affected yet by Trump's executive order restricting travel between the United States and seven predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
He has, however, heard from area hospitals affected by the travel restrictions and said he expects Argonne would be affected if the executive order is upheld in court.
"It's a concern in all professions about who might not be able to come here, or who might be here and not able to take a trip back home," he told me.
"(There's concern about) some scientists not wanting … to work for the federal government because they don't know if there's going to be political interference in what we do … That's a problem. The United States needs to be a leader in scientific research. Generally, Republicans in Congress agree with that statement."
Trump's handling of foreign policy is a major concern, Lipinski said.
"We can't continue picking fights everywhere. A lot of Americans think we need to stand stronger. I don't disagree with that. But that doesn't mean you go picking fights with countries all around the world. That's not the way to be a stronger, more secure America."
Domestically, however, Lipinski said he believes he could find common ground with some positions supported by Trump and Republicans. For example, Lipinski recently sponsored "Buy American" legislation that close loopholes, promote hiring Americans and ensure federal contracts are awarded to domestic companies whenever possible.
Lipinski, like other Democrats in Congress, expressed a willingness to work with the president and Republicans on some issues. But he cautioned that in other areas, including ethics, he and other Democrats will closely monitor the president's conduct.
"There are great concerns over his business dealings and connections," Lipinski said. "There are so many things that would be easier for the president and, I think, better for our country if the president did not Tweet as much as he did."
"A lot of us had hoped he would be different when he became president. I'm not going to sit here and say I want the president to fail because that means that people suffer, Americans suffer. My job is to keep the president in line so things get better in our country."
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