Senator Dick Durbin Speaks at Georgetown

JACOB DENNINGER: Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Senate Minority Whip and graduate of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and law school, returned to the Hilltop on Monday for a discussion in the Healey Family Student Center.

The event, titled “The New Senate Democratic Agenda,” was hosted by the Institute of Politics and Public Service at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy and was co-sponsored by the Georgetown University College Democrats. Here are four takeaways:

The Rise of Authoritarianism and Trump

Addressing the resurgence of authoritarianism in the world today, Senator Durbin said that economic anxiety and dysfunctional politics have combined to create a feeling that the system is rigged. This, Durbin explained, leads people to question if democracy can work and look to authoritarianism for answers.

In the U.S.,  Durbin continued, this economic and political dysfunction has led to a desire for change. In 2008, Barack Obama was the change candidate, but in 2016, continued desire for change was exacerbated by fundamental cultural differences, leading to the election of Donald Trump.

The Senate Democratic Agenda

Durbin said that Democrats can’t sacrifice who they are and need to stand up for what they believe in. This includes standing strong on cultural issues like gender, race, and immigration, as well as on economic priorities like protecting health care, raising the minimum wage, and addressing sky-high tuition and student debt.

Overall, Durbin said, Democrats need a positive message on both economic and cultural issues.

Durbin also commented on his colleagues in the House, praising House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the diversity of this year’s class of freshman Democratic House members.

Immigration and the Shutdown

Durbin said that the lesson from the recent government shutdown was that “we should do away with shutdowns for good.”

But Durbin also said that the only way to avoid another government shutdown over immigration was for Republican Senators to join with Democrats to pass a funding bill. Durbin thinks GOP Senators are frustrated with Trump and close to breaking ranks. He even speculated that if Trump vetoes a funding bill, a veto override (which requires 67 senators) might be possible.

Durbin has been active in bipartisan immigration negotiations in recent years, including helping to craft a bipartisan bill in 2013 that passed the Senate 68-32 with the support of 14 Republicans. The Republican-led House refused to take it up.

Durbin said there is common ground on immigration and a desire among the public for comprehensive immigration reform. However, Durbin thinks compromise won’t be found under President Trump.

Durbin also took a student question asking about donations to his campaign from companies operating for-profit immigrant detention centers. Durbin said he was unaware of the donations, but they wouldn’t change the way he feels or votes.

While Durbin’s record on immigration is clear and he criticized immigrant detention centers and the Trump administration’s family separations policy during his answer to the question, he should know where his campaign money is coming from.  

Reasons for Hope

While a saying that a second term of Trump would be a disaster, Durbin was optimistic about the 2020 presidential election. (He said he had no presidential ambitions himself.) He thinks that having a lot of candidates in the Democratic primary is a good thing. He is also excited for newcomers to the national political scene like South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Durbin said he is looking for a nominee with the right values who can credibly lead the United States of America. The Senator also predicted that Democrats will find talent emerging in 2020.

Max Magid