Saying the Democrats needed to be a “big-tent party,” U.S. Rep Dan Lipinski defended his anti-abortion voting record at a Chicago town hall May 9, to the cheers and boos from constituents in his divided audience. Lipinski also answered questions about immigration, health care, war powers of the president, worker protections in trade treaties and immigration. A crowd filled the large auditorium at Kennedy High School in the 5600 block of South Narragansett Ave.
In the past months, Lipinski has been criticized by constituents of the 3rd District for being unresponsive and refusing to host town hall meetings. An “in absentia” town hall was held in Berwyn in March where voters asked questions to a cut-out cartoon of Lipinski. Some voters are also angry about Lipinski’s anti-abortion voting record in the district, which stretches from the South Side of Chicago and then covers an area in southwest Cook between highways I-55 and I-80 into Will County.
In response to a question about immigration raids increasing under President Donald Trump, Lipinski said he Trump’s proposed “wall” was a mistake.
“It makes no sense that we should have a 30-foot wall that President Trump wants across our border. That does not mean we should not spend money on border security,” he said. “We need comprehensive immigration reform, but we’ll only have it when there is confidence of the American people that we have control of the border.”
The audience applauded when he criticized the American Health Care Act, passed by the House 217-213. But support was less evident when he said he could not support “single-payer” insurance or “Medicare for all” healthcare.
“I have concerns about [single-payer]. I cannot say I’m sure there will ever be a time where the government would do a better job than an insurer.”
The Affordable Care Act reined in the worst abuses of insurance companies, he said, by mandating they must pay out 85 percent of revenues. However, the ACA did not rein in costs of medical care and drugs.
Vermont and Colorado just rejected single-payer programs, Lipinski said. “I am not convinced the government can do a better a job at it.”
Some of his constituents in the southwest suburbs brought old-school support for Lipinski’s pro-life views during the town hall. Both applause and boos came from the audience when Lipinski was praised for his past support of defunding Planned Parenthood. (Lipinski did not vote for the AHCA that contained provisions to change how abortion providers were supported by the federal government.) Lipinski mentioned a proposal that the organization “split into two” and spin off the abortion services so that other women’s health care services would still qualify for federal funding. This drew more boos and a smattering of applause.
Lipinski said he was one of the few “pro-life Democrats” left in the House. “One reason I’m a Democrat is because I wanted to help protect people who are vulnerable. The unborn in the womb are the vulnerable that we need to protect.”
“We need to be a big-tent party. I’m not asking the Democrats to change their position, I’m asking the Democrats to be accepting of other positions.”
When asked by a woman if he would poll his constituents and vote according to their pro-choice or pro-life preferences, he said he would not. “I support women’s health, but I don’t believe abortion is women’s health.” This drew boos from the crowd.
Lipinski got more support when he said he thought Congress needed to corral Trump’s military actions as commander-in-chief, the sooner the better.
“After that strike on Syria, I have said that the president, before he can commit new troops needs to come to Congress. Now we hear reports about more troops going to Afghanistan. We need a plan put forward that Congress actually debates and votes on to determine if Congress approves of doing this.”
Lipinski also spoke to the blue-collar worker base in his district by saying he supported Trump’s position to renegotiate trade treaties such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal (TPP) and NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). Workers rights, such as the right to unionize, in other countries were not protected by those trade agreements, he said, leading to American jobs being shipped overseas. Lipinski proposed legislation in February that the U.S. government must buy goods and services from American companies, where possible.
A woman asked him about 21st century jobs, as opposed to the district’s former blue collar manufacturing employment or infrastructure jobs.
Lipinski, a former engineer who serves on the science-based technology committee, said he was looking into tax credit programs for apprentices in careers other than the traditional building trades to help younger people gain specialized job skills. He said Congress needed to look every five years at manufacturing technology for devices like self-driving cars, and make sure they were supporting research in labs and moving it into new products and companies.
“If that manufacturing could stay here in the U.S. instead of going overseas, there’s so much that could happen,” he said.
— Town hall shows Lipinski at odds with some 3rd District voters —