Quigley criticizes Trump’s relationship with Russia, defends Obamacare

45th ward Alderman John Arena addresses Portage Park residents after remarks given by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-5th). (Derek Robertson/MEDILL)

By Derek Robertson

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) said Monday night that in light of an increasingly unpredictable political climate both at home and abroad his work on the House Intelligence Committee is more critical now than ever.

Quigley didn’t mince words before 45th Ward Ald. John Arena and some of his constituents at the Filament Theatre in Portage Park,  regarding the challenges congressional Democrats face dealing with Republican President-elect Donald Trump.

“This is going to be very difficult,” Quigley said, criticizing what he described as Trump’s “romance” with Russian President Vladimir Putin in light of his own role on the Intelligence Committee. Trump has made numerous remarks in recent weeks accusing the American intelligence community of partisanship in its  handling of information regarding Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Quigley announced Tuesday that he would not attend Trump’s inauguration, according to a Chicago Tribune report, joining more than 50 Democratic legislators in boycotting the event.

At the meeting Monday,  he addressed the Republicans’ efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act as well, asserting that if implemented they would increase the national debt by up to $1 trillion. He conceded that reforms are needed to combat rising monthly premiums, but added he would fight to preserve what he views as parts of the act that enjoy bipartisan popularity.

Portage Park resident Pamela Conroy, 47, said she was concerned about the Republican health care agenda.

“I’m looking for a full-time job because of the repeal,” Conroy said. “I can’t deny, it’s been expensive, but I’ve looked at private plans and they’re even more expensive.”

Evie Raffanti, a 63-year-old Portage Park resident, asked Quigley if he supported Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison’s bid for chair of the Democratic National Committee. Quigley declined to answer because of his lack of a say in who becomes chair.

“I’m a big believer in speaking truth to power,” Raffanti said, expressing her disappointment. “I wanted a stronger answer – I want someone like [State Rep.], Will Guzzardi [D-Chicago], [35th Ward Ald.] Carlos [Ramirez-]Rosa, John Arena. … [Quigley is] part of the New Democrat Coalition. He’s one of those neoliberal Democrats.”

Conroy shared Raffanti’s desire for more progressive voices in Chicago-area politics, something Dick Simpson, professor of political science at UIC and a former Chicago alderman, described as a trend both on the Northwest Side and in Democratic politics nationally.

“The Northwest Side has usually been a bastion of machine politics,” Simpson said, “…but recently with the election of aldermen, like Arena, and then with the election of Will Guzzardi, there’s been a growing base of progressives – partly it may be that some of them who used to live near the lakefront have moved to the Northwest Side because of  housing prices, and partly it’s just the changing times.”

Arena touted his progressive credentials throughout the meeting, describing “trust issues” on CPS spending and pointing out that his moments of agreement with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, viewed as overly moderate by many on the left, have been rare.

Arena said the City Council’s Progressive Caucus will ask the mayor to investigate the leadership of the city’s Department of Law, which has been cited three times since last July for not producing relevant information in investigations of the CPD.

He also criticized Emanuel for waiting too long, in his view, to terminate former CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy, under whose tenure a  police officer fatally shot Laquan McDonald. Arena closed with harsh words for current CPD leadership in the aftermath of the release of a Department of Justice investigation revealing numerous police abuses. He argued that the department’s lack of oversight hurts the credibility of officers on the street.

“This should piss you off,” Arena said. “And if I’m a police officer – one of the 10,000 rank and file officers in this system, I’m pissed off too.”

The 45th Ward Ald. John Arena addresses constituents Monday after remarks from Rep. Mike Quigley (D-5th). (Derek Robertson/MEDILL)