By T.J. Brown -
The escalating crisis in Ukraine dominated the discussion as U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) returned home to New Trier Township as guest of honor at the New Trier Republican Organization’s Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner Saturday.
“I think we’re probably 48 hours away from a Russian invasion of Ukraine to crush that democracy,” Kirk told moderator Chris Robling, a conservative commentator and another New Trier native. “(Russian President Vladimir) Putin has a completely out-of-date view of Russia’s role in the Black Sea and he wants to make sure he controls a completely outdated, withered fleet in the Black Sea.”
Kirk, who was at an event in Chicago’s Ukrainian-American community earlier in the day, recalled the Russian invasion of Georgia during the George W. Bush Administration. As a Senior Naval Intel Officer, he was in the Pentagon watching the board light up with Russian units marching into Georgia, reminding Kirk of the old Cold War drills simulating a Soviet invasion of NATO.
At the time Sen. Kirk remembered that Bush had promised the Georgian government that he would airlift their troops back to Georgia if needed when Georgia joined the coalition involved in the Iraq War. Such a promise would take a massive airlift and, in those circumstances, an airlift with Russian fighter planes in the skies. Kirk wondered if Bush would follow through with his promise, and to his delight, Bush did.
“It was great to see a Commander-in-Chief with that level of commitment,” Kirk said.
Sen. Kirk does not see the same kind of commitment from President Obama, who has preferred talks with the Iranian government over a tougher approach, championed by Kirk and Sen. Robert Menendez. Kirk worked with Menendez and other Senators from both sides, including New York Democrat Chuck Schumer on building a coalition in favor of a tough bill.
“If there is a center of the pro-Israel community in the country, it’s here in the 10th,” Kirk said. “That community empowered me to build support on the Iran bill with the other side.”
Kirk, a native of New Trier Township, represented the area for 10 years as 10th Congressional District Representative. Saturday’s dinner was his first appearance at an NTRO event since his 2012 stroke. Unsurprisingly, he was greeted warmly by an overflow crowd. An emotional video chronicling Senator Kirk's recovery and first year back in the Senate was shown, and it had some in the room misty-eyed as the video recalled NTRO’s 2012 Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner where attendees were able to send him get well wishes by video.
Sen. Kirk also talked about the disastrous roll out of Obamacare and his efforts to rein in federal spending. Robling told Kirk that PAC Americans For Prosperity listed Kirk as the most fiscally conservative member of the Illinois delegation, and Kirk added that the Club for Growth gave Kirk a 100 percent rating as a fiscally conservative Senator.
As for Obamacare, Kirk believes allowing insurance to be sold across state lines and comprehensive malpractice reform to be the centerpiece of a Republican alternative. When an NTRO member asked Sen. Kirk if Congress should pursue legal remedies against the Obama Administration for unilaterally making 28 changes in the law, Kirk cautioned against that, saying that it could turn into a legal dead end and to instead focus on repeal.
“I think Obamacare will unwind itself,” Kirk said. “It’s completely and fundamentally unsound.”
One of Kirk’s pet issues is reducing the length of time injured veterans must wait to get their claims adjudicated. Right now, it takes more than 400 days. Kirk wants to reduce the wait to a maximum of 120 days. Robling asked Kirk why it takes as long as 400 days.
“We let the Democrats run the government,” Kirk replied.
Other Republicans attending included NTRO Committeeman Bill Cadigan, former 10th District Congressman Bob Dold (again a candidate for the 10th District), Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Dan Patlak, State Representative candidates Kathy Myalls (17th), Leslie Munger (59th) and Dr. Mark Neerhof (58th). NTRO endorsed Bruce Rauner for Governor (as well as Doug Truax for Senate and Tom Cross for Treasurer) last month and the walls of the room were adorned with Rauner and Cross signs. Team Rauner was represented at the event by his running mate, Lt. Governor candidate Evelyn Sanguinetti.
Sanguinetti told her story of growing up poor in South Florida, the daughter of a Cuban immigrant teenage mother and an Ecuadorian immigrant father. Entrance into a magnet school changed her life, as she became a concert pianist, attorney, adjunct law professor and Wheaton city councilman.
While other Lt. Gov. candidates have said they will focus on one issue or another, Sanguinetti said she views her role more comprehensively.
“I will need to be Bruce’s partner on every issue, because if something happens to him, I will be expected to take his place,” she said.