Congresswoman Robin Kelly on Crushing the Virus, Righting the Ship, Mending International Fences

Congresswoman Robin Kelly
Congresswoman Robin Kelly. (SUPPLIED)

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- Congresswoman Robin Kelly graciously sat for an interview just before Thanksgiving where she spoke of crushing the COVID-19 virus. But that’s not all. She also spoke of her hopes for “righting the ship,” as she put it, after a Trump presidency that has left us in “chaos,” as the Congresswoman put it. Among the many tasks ahead with the Biden presidency is “mending fences internationally,” as she put it.

In a show of class that has been largely absent from the White House the past four years, Congresswoman Kelly expressed the loss she feels that some of her Republican colleagues in the House and Senate will not be returning. She worked with Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX 23rd District) and a colleague worked with Senator Gardner (R-CO) to pass bipartisan legislation that did eventually make its way to President Trump’s desk.

Many measures were throttled by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the Congresswoman does not hold back with her disappointment — as well as hopes for what will be possible with Joe Biden in the Oval Office.

All in all, Congresswoman Kelly’s responses were thoughtful and measured. While President Trump appeared to be reacting to the Obama Presidency (the Congresswoman notes this), the Democrats’ plans do not look to be similarly reactionary.

Our lightly edited interview follows along with video of our Zoom call.

ENEWSPF: Hello and welcome to eNews Park Forest. This is Congresswoman Robin Kelly. We’re honored to have you with us today at eNewsPF.

Congresswoman Kelly: Honor to be with you.

ENEWSPF: I don’t even know where to start, because we’ve kind of crossed paths over the past few years, but my goodness, what’s it been like under a Trump presidency.

Criminal Justice Reform

Congresswoman Kelly: I tell people all the time, I’m an optimist, but it’s been very frustrating, because we’ve tried to pass bipartisan pieces of legislation, hundreds, and we still could not get anything called in the Senate. And some of the things that this president promised he would do work on never really saw the light of day, like infrastructure. He spent a lot of time with appealing, trying to appeal the Affordable Care Act with no substitute, no alternative, so it felt often times that he was trying to wipe out the Obama presidency. And when I think a lot of different things, like we’ve been in chaos the last four years.

And I’m not saying that we haven’t taken some steps on some things, like I know we’ve worked hard on the First Step Act. It’s just the first step with the criminal justice system, but that was passed into law. I was able to get some things like there’s something going to the president’s office now dealing with cybersecurity and technology and the federal government, and we worked in a bipartisan way, but it’s been tough. It has been tough. It has been frustrating, and embarrassing, to be honest with you, at times or a number of times.

The Internet of Things

ENEWSPF: You have managed to have some legislative successes. You mentioned cybersecurity. What can you tell us about the internet of things?

Congresswoman Kelly: Right, that is my legislation. Believe it or not, we worked on for four years, three or four years. I take my hat off to my staff. That’s the federal government having legislation rules and regulations around the technology that we purchase, and that we have to make sure that it was safe and sound, so it deals with cybersecurity. And I worked with Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX 23rd District). We worked together a lot. He’s not coming back, unfortunately. And Senator Warner (D-VA) work with Senator Gardner (R-CO), who also was not coming back, to get this passed in the House and get a pass in the Senate. And because the person that I worked with the lot on tech issues, not that I’m any big techie, is Mark Meadows. And so now that he’s a chief of staff, I’m hoping that he shepherds this bill to be signed by the president.

Crush the Coronavirus

ENEWSPF: That’s a nice transition. Speaking of transitions, what are you looking forward to with Biden presidency?

Congresswoman Kelly: Oh God, so many things. Well, first of all, we have to right the ship. There’s things that President Trump has done that I know president-elect Biden wants to immediately change, but first and foremost, we have to crush the virus. I mean, we just have to do it. And [the] president-elect has people in place already. I was just in a meeting, I think yesterday, or maybe the day before, my days are rolling together, with the task force for the coronavirus. So, hopefully, with the vaccines, looking like they’ll be out before this year is out, and then of course it’ll go to the healthcare folks first, because they’re dealing with folks, but then yet making sure that it goes to the communities disproportionately affected. It has to be equitable distribution of the vaccine.

But then I look for uplifting our economy, an infrastructure bill that we already have in place in the House that will put a lot of people back to work, and then also mending fences internationally. I mean, there’s so many things, work around the environment, a continued work around social justice issues. He’s going to be very, very busy, and we’re going to be very busy. And hopefully, because of his relationships in the Senate, his longtime relationships in the Senate, some of the gridlock will go away. God, I hope so.

ENEWSPF: That would be welcome I think probably on both sides of the aisle.

Congresswoman Kelly: Yes, yeah.

Background Checks, Closing the Charleston Loophole

ENEWSPF: I don’t think anybody really goes to Congress to do nothing. Maybe some people actually want to make a difference. You’re certainly one of them. You have championed firearm gun reform legislation, what would you like to see done? What do you think is possible with the Biden presidency?

Congresswoman Kelly: Well, we already have the background check bill that we passed in the House, and closing what we call the Charleston loophole, but closing loopholes around background checks. But what my colleagues have heard me say over and over and over in places like where I represent, we also need national bills around gun trafficking and store purchases. Fifty to sixty percent of our crime guns, people talk about Chicago, but they’re not even from Chicago. I mean Indiana, Wisconsin, and sometimes as far south as Mississippi. We have to do something about that. We have to give the ATF, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms the resources they need. We hear that they’ve been slowly bled through the year, so they can’t even carry out some of their mission because they don’t have the resources and tools or personnel that they need. So, those two things, trafficking, and straw purchases, we have to have some federal legislation around that.

Mental Health, Suicide, Marijuana

Then the other thing is it’s not just about legislation. We have to invest in our communities. We talk about the social determinants of health, and I talk about the social determinants of life, that we have to inject opportunity and hope in some of the communities. And then of course, as far as gun violence, still the great majority is suicides, and even suicides have increased because of COVID and the economy, and people being so stressed out, so we have to make sure that people have access to mental health. That’s the other thing.

So, there’s so many things that will be on their plate, but there are also programs or legislation that have already been – they’re just been waiting for a partner in the White House.

ENEWSPF: I see that you put forward legislation, and with that, comes many concerns for first responders and suicide. Our fire chief spoke on that a few years ago, just a couple of years ago at our October memorial service for fallen firefighters. The African-American community, people of color in general, have been targeted by drug legislation, and have suffered arrests, where now with the legalization of marijuana, there’s a huge step forward in people finding some kind of relief. What do you think needs to still be done with respect to the so-called war on drugs that hopefully we’re dismantling?

Congresswoman Kelly: Okay. Well as I said, we passed the First Step Act that allowed some people to get out of federal prison, but that was just the first step. It’s a combination of things. People should not be going to jail. People that were put in jail for marijuana, and depending on what state you’re in, they should be getting out of jail now, because now people are legally buying it, and where people went to jail for it not too long ago, so they definitely should be released from jail. Actually federally, marijuana’s still not legal, so it’s state, by state, by state, but it should be legal for one thing. And that would take a lot of the issue off the table, as far as that’s concerned.

To me, it’s about the drugs but bigger than the drugs, we just need to make sure we have a fair legal system and court system and bond system and bail system, goes all the way through the whole system. It’s not that just one thing or the other.

The Summer of George Floyd

ENEWSPF: We had a decent discussion with our police chief Chris Menino some weeks back, and criminal justice reform is still on the horizon, I think. We had a very very busy summer, with the demise of George Floyd. Is there anything that you’re looking for on the federal level?

Congresswoman Kelly: Well, we have the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act that passed the House bipartisan, and is sitting on the desk of Mitch McConnell. So, if it doesn’t pass in this lame-duck session, then we will re-file, and get a pass in the 117th Congress, so I hope to get it passed. I mean we can’t give up. We’re still going to push and do everything we can do, and hopefully, which happens a lot, states are more – they could get things done quicker sometimes than we can on the federal level, even though it needs to be a federal law. But whatever we can’t do, but I’m going to be positive and say we can do this, hopefully, the states are looking at what can be done also.

All Eyes on Georgia

ENEWSPF: So, all eyes are on Georgia now.

Congresswoman Kelly: All eyes. My eyes are.

ENEWSPF: What do you think our chances are? I say our because I’m going to—

Congresswoman Kelly: Right, it affects the whole. I can take the easy way out and say 50/50 because they’re going to win or they’re going to lose, but I know that like you said, all eyes are on. The Democrats know how very important this is to get these two people in, and I mean, we got a little bit closer. We didn’t get to the promised land like we hoped, but I’m you know, I’m hoping that – I know everyone, they need us to come down, we’ll come down, phone calls, postcards. People are really gearing up. And it’s hard with the special election, because people were geared up and voted in November, and then to get them going again.

One thing that’s lucky is that Georgia is not Minnesota or Illinois, where it’s freezing out in January, so hopefully weather won’t be deterrent. I mean, I know they get bad weather sometimes, but not like up north. So, I’m hoping against hope that we can pull this off, because that would be a faster way of getting things done.

ENEWSPF: Congresswoman, is there anything else you’d like to say to members of your district or Park Foresters?

Wear a Mask

Congresswoman Kelly: Well, I don’t want to sound like anyone’s mother or a lecturer, but please please please wear your mask. If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for everybody else. That’s what it’s about. And remember to be physically distant, and wash your hands. I mean government can only do so much. We’re depending on the public to do their part in all this. It’s just so very important. We want to get past this. The government of Park Forest wants to get past it. We want to get past it congressionally. The governor wants to get past it, and we won’t unless people cooperate.

And the other thing I’ll say is, even though my office has been closed, but we’re still answering the phones, we’re still there, 708-679-0078. Don’t even know my own number, because I don’t call myself. 708-679-0078, and there will always be someone answering the phone even though we may not be in the office, so don’t hesitate when you have questions.

And last but not least of course, happy holidays to everyone.

ENEWSPF: Happy holidays to you, and congratulations on another successful election.

Congresswoman Kelly: Well, thanks for rehiring me. I love my job.

ENEWSPF: And we look forward to chatting in the future.

Congresswoman Kelly: Thank you so much. Take care. Good to see you. Okay. Bye, bye.

ENEWSPF: Thank you.

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