Sen. Dick Durbin is the Senate Majority Whip — Majority Leader Harry Reid’s right-hand man, in other words — and was the senior Senator from Illinois when the President first served. He’s also the author of the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced discriminatory sentencing for people convicted of crack cocaine possession, a consistent pro-choice vote and a long-time advocate for tobacco regulation. He spoke with Raw Story in Charlotte at the PPL Newsroom.
Raw Story: What are you hoping people take away from the Democratic convention?
Durbin: First, an opportunity to clear the record from some of the things said in Tampa, which were not accurate. Secondly, to fire up our own base, to make sure that they have a level of energy and enthusiasm in the closing two months. And third, most importantly, a program that reaches out to the undecided and independent voters that tells them that 4 more years of Barack Obama is the best thing for this country to continue to move forward.
Raw Story: What do you think Obama has to do to convince voters that four more years is better than changing paths again?
Durbin: It’s worth noting that the mess he inherited was historic: the worst economy recession since the Great Depression, two wars, a bailout of the financial industry, a collapse of the American automobile industry, devastation of people’s savings accounts, and people say, “Are we better off now than we were four years ago?” Who would go back to that mess?
So he inherited that, and with limited cooperation and help from Congress, has moved us into a positive situation in which jobs are being created — 29 straight months of private sector job creation. Housing prices are starting to come back, which is good. Businesses are expanding, many bringing jobs back to the United States. It’s a slower process than any of us liked, but it’s certainly a move in the right direction.
Raw Story: Democrats have been emphasizing the private sector job creation under Obama for the last couple of days, but obviously public sector job losses have contributed to the ongoing unemployment problems. But many of the public sector job losses are attributable to Republicans’ unwillingness to keep government employees on the job. How do you start talking about that?
Durbin: Well, first, the stimulus package passed when three Republican Senators joined us. Look where they are today: Arlen Specter, who switched parties because he was facing defeat in a Republican primary; Olympia Snowe, who left the Senate saying, “This is not workable,”; Susan Collins, who managed to survive. But because those three came our way, the President was able to send resources to many state and local governments to help get them through the worst of the recession. And it ran out, and the Republicans made it clear once we lost our 60-vote margin, they weren’t going to help any further. So that was one of the problems.
The President came back, and the Senate Democrats repeatedly offered Republicans the opportunity to hire more teachers, firefighters, and cops, and each time they voted against it. So we have tried to help in the public sector with little or no help from the other side of the aisle.
Raw Story: One of the big themes of this election cycle has been women’s rights. But after last week when it was barely mentioned at the podium, do you think it was expected that it would be more on the radar this week?
Durbin: You can just see in the line-up of speakers at the Democratic convention that women are going to play a prominent role, starting with the First Lady. When Todd Akin, the Congressman from Missouri running for the Senate, decided to pronounce himself an expert in human female anatomy and said things that were incredible — which he later apologized for — we have to remember that this just wasn’t a curiosity. When the transportation bill came before the United States Senate, the Senate Republicans insisted that before that bill could come up, they had to have one amendment. You remember what it was? It was Senator Blunt of Missouri offering an amendment that allowed employers to pick and choose the health care their employees would receive, such as family planning for their female employees. They wouldn’t let us take a transportation bill up without calling that.
It’s no coincidence that this theme keeps coming back, because it’s built into some of the more extreme forms of conservatism on the Republican side. What did the Republicans on the House side insist on as a rider if we were going to more forward on trying to move forward on keeping the government running? Abolish funding for Planned Parenthood. It just keeps coming back over and over again. So when they stand up and say, “I don’t know why they think we’re against women,” well, it’s because there’s ample evidence that when it comes to women and their ability to control their own bodies and chart their own futures, the Republicans don’t believe that’s the right thing, many of them don’t.
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