Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Evanston) saw President Barack Obama’s State of the Union through different eyes but came away with the same message Tuesday.
Both north suburban lawmakers praised and ratified the President’s proposals to raise the minimum wage, stimulate job growth, implement gun control and more. They heard the same message but saw it differently.
Schakowsky, a seven-term veteran, was excited by the challenge the President laid at the feet of Congress while Schneider was awed by the full experience of his first State of the Union address on the floor of the House of Representatives.
“It was a pretty incredible experience,” Schneider said. “I thought his opening quote of (President) John Kennedy that ‘it is the task of us all to move forward’ set the tone.”
Citing the issue of climate change, Schakowsky liked the way the President challenged Congress to act letting the members know something would be done one way or the other.
“But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will,” the President said. “I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequence of climate change and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”
Schakowsky heard the message loud and clear. “He was challenging Congress,” she said.
Change Seen in Attitude on Gun Control
Another strong theme of the evening was gun control, particularly background checks, limiting the use of both assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines. The President made it personal when he talked about the shooting of Hadiya Pendelton, whose parents were the guests of Schneider and sat in the gallery with the President’s wife, First Lady Michelle Obama.
“She was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house,” the President said. “In the two months since Newtown more than a thousand birthdays, graduations and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun,” he added referring to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Schakowsky was moved by the moment. “I looked up in the gallery and saw tears in her eyes,” Schakowsky said of Cleo Pendelton, Hadiya’ mother, when the President mentioned her daughter’s name.
On this issue as well the President issued a challenge as he invoked not only Hadiya Pendelton but the loved ones of shooting victims in Newtown, Oak Creek, WI, Aurora, CO, Tucson and Blacksburg, VA. “They deserve a vote,” he said.
Kirk, Schneider and Schakowsky All See Change Coming
Schneider and Schakowsky both see that vote coming and are ready to do something about it. “I’m going to reach out and find people to stand with me,” Schneider said. “It has become time to face this issue.”
While it has been difficult to even bring gun control meaures to the floor of the Senate and House for a vote, Schakowsky thinks that will change.
“I’ve been involved in this issue for 20 some years. It really is different now,” Schakowsky said. “There are new players now,” she added referring to the willingness of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to pump money into campaigns and former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) new organization to fight gun violence. “There are senators working on legislation now.”
One of those members of the upper chamber who has authored legislation is Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Highland Park), who has sponsored legislation to make trafficking of guns a federal crime.
“We should work as a nation to reduce gun violence and save lives,” Kirk said in a statement. “I believe we can pass a universal background check bill this year to keep guns away from criminals and the mentally ill, while protecting law-abiding citizens.”
The President also proposed raising the minimum wage to $9 per hour and assuring people have the education to acquire the skills to have higher paying jobs. Schneider was happy to hear that since the first legislation he introduced was a bill to foster better and consistent job training.
“He wants to make sure we help the economy by creating jobs people have the qualifications for with an emphasis on manufacturing,” Schneider said. “That’s why my first bill was the America Works Act.”
For a full text of the speech, click here.