Sen. Dick Durbin shares thoughts on DNC convention, top political issues

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U.S. Senator Dick Durbin spoke with The Chronicle and WCRX about this year's Democratic National Convention. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

By Managing Editor

The Democratic Party will be officially naming their presidential candidate at this year’s Democratic National Convention this week where major party leader Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is in attendance. 

The Chronicle, joined by WCRX reporter Michael Obrecki, spoke with Durbin July 25 from the convention as he discussed topics ranging from the resignation of former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, gun violence in the United States and how this presidential election differs from any in the past.

OBRECKI: What can we expect this week during the Democratic National Convention?

DURBIN: I think you are going to see some outstanding speeches tonight. Michelle Obama is going to speak, Bernie Sanders is going to be part of our presentation as well as a Dreamer—a young lady named Astrid Silva who will be addressing the convention as well. It promises to be a great night every night. We have some extraordinary people to deliver our message. 

THE CHRONICLE: What do you think that the DNC convention can offer to voters that maybe the RNC convention did not?

I say half-jokingly, the only suspense at the Republican convention was whether every member of Donald Trump’s family was going to publicly endorse him. I think almost all of them did, save maybe one of his sons. All kidding aside, they made impressive presentations, and I’m sure Mr. Trump is proud of them. 

What we are bringing forward are people who have been leaders in the United States who will speak to the major issues that face us as a nation and the issues that are on the minds of voters—particularly working families. That, I think, is the key to winning in November. Focus on the economy and jobs and getting a middle-income family a chance to lead a good life. 

OBRECKI: With the DNC email leaks, many Bernie Sanders supporters are upset at the treatment of his campaign. How do you think the leaked emails and Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s subsequent resignation will affect the party’s efforts to project a unified front heading into the convention?

Bernie Sanders complained during the campaign that the DNC was not neutral and these emails suggest he was right, and as a result of it, Hillary Clinton made a decision quickly and asked Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the DNC, to step aside replacing her with Donna Brazile, an extraordinarily talented woman who chaired the Gore presidential campaign [and] has spoken for the party and our values on public media for many, many years. She is the right person for the job, and I think Hillary made a decisive move in doing that. But, put it in perspective: we are talking about the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. 

What I would like you to do is to go down to Michigan Avenue, near your campus there, and ask the first person walking by to name either the chairman of the Republican National Committee or the Democratic National Committee. I doubt that very few people can. This is an interparty issue that is being resolved in the right way. 

CHRONICLE: As a fellow senator, what are your thoughts on Clinton’s vice president choice of Senator Tim Kaine and his skills as a politician?

My wife and I were sitting down for dinner at a restaurant in Chicago Friday night, and my cell phone rang at about 8:30 p.m., and it was Tim Kaine an hour before he had been notified that he was going to be Secretary Clinton’s running mate. He was kind enough to call me and thank me for our relationship in the Senate, and I told him I couldn’t have picked a better person. He is solid. He is a person of principle. He is a person with extraordinary experience from city council to mayor to lieutenant governor and senator. He understands the workings of government, and he has the kind of principles and values that we need in a leader in this nation. I am glad she chose him. 

OBRECKI: Bernie Sanders captured the minds and hearts of America’s youth and much of his appeal came from policy plans for college tuition and loans. How do established politicians get young people engaged with this presidential campaign and future campaigns?

We have to listen closely to Bernie’s message. He really put his finger on something that is critical, and that is the student debt that is growing across America. It is outrageous. Our young college graduates come out of school with so much debt it compromises their life decisions. Many of them postpone the basics in terms of owning a car or getting married or having a home or children. All of these things suggest we have to do something about that. 

When we call this issue in the United States Senate, we cannot get a single Republican to support our efforts to reduce interest rates. Bernie knew that, and he made that an issue. Now, Hillary Clinton has embraced that, and it is part of our party platform. Bernie had a dramatic impact on the message of this party in this coming election. 

CHRONICLE: The country is obviously having a very intense conversation about the issue of gun violence. What do you think needs to change to stop the violence, and do you think this will be a contentious issue at this convention and in the upcoming election?

I can tell you it is a contentious issue, and it is a divisive issue. If we are going to do anything to deal with gun violence and death, we need some new leadership. That is why I’m asking people to join me in supporting Tammy Duckworth for the Senate, so we can have a Democratic majority in the Senate, and Mitch McConnell—the current Republican leader—won’t be able to set the agenda and stop us from voting on gun issues. 

Two things that I think are critical: one, background checks. Let us all agree whether you belong to the NRA or you wouldn’t own a firearm, we don’t want firearms in the hands of the wrong people—convicted felons, people who are mentally unstable or those who are suspected of being terrorists. That ought to be our starting point. Secondly, I want to turn to law enforcement. The men and women in uniform who risk their lives every day are being outgunned by these gangsters on the street have got to join us in this conversation about sensible gun safety. Those two things can make a difference.

CHRONICLE: Many people seem to feel that this election has been one of the most surreal and nasty presidential elections in modern US history. Would you agree with that assessment and how do you think we could make a return to civility in this campaign or future campaigns?

Let me be very blunt and straightforward: Donald Trump broke all the rules when it came to name calling and insulting people. In his own political party, he had a nasty nickname for every single candidate and kept hammering away at it. Things he said about disabled people, about women [and] about Muslims are outrageous statements that have no place in the mainstream of American politics. He brought the same message to Cleveland and the convention. That was a convention that focused on anger and fear and hate. That is not what America is all about. Our future is one that can be positive and forward-looking with the right leadership, not negative leadership. At the end of the day, I’m going to give credit to Ronald Reagan who talked about “morning in America.” Donald Trump has talked about “midnight in America” for way too long. It is time for us to focus on a positive future for working families across our country. 

Click here to listen to the full interview made available by WCRX

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin spoke with The Chronicle and WCRX about this year’s Democratic National Convention. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune/TNS)