Running for: U.S. House of Representatives, IL-14 (incumbent)
Political party affiliation: Democrat
Political/civic background: I was elected to serve Illinois’ 14th District in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018. I serve on the House Committee on Education and Labor, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and as the Vice Chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security. I also serve on the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. I am a member of the Future Forum, a group of young Democratic Members of Congress committed to listening to and standing up for the next generation of Americans, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), and the LGBT Equality Caucus. Additionally, I am a member of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force and the co-founder and co-chair of the Black Maternal Health Caucus.
Occupation: U.S Congresswoman; Registered Nurse
Education: University of Michigan (Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing)
Johns Hopkins University (Master’s of Science in Nursing; Master’s of Public Health)
Campaign website: underwoodforcongress.com
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent nominees for the U.S. House of Representatives a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing their districts, the state of Illinois and the country. Lauren Underwood submitted the following responses:
1. Are you satisfied with the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Why or why not? What grade would you give President Donald Trump for his handling of the pandemic, and why?
The Trump Administration’s response to this pandemic has made a bad situation worse. As a registered nurse who worked on the public health response to Ebola and Zika, I am horrified by the lack of coordination and countless missed opportunities to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and mitigate the impact of the virus on our daily lives. The President’s own words regarding his Administration’s response to COVID-19 says everything: “I don’t take responsibility at all.”
We are five months into this crisis, and I am still hearing from nurses who are reusing single-use masks because they don’t have the basic supplies they need to safely do their jobs. As of writing, more than 160,000 of our fellow Americans have tragically died from COVID-19. Our essential workers are being forced to put their lives on the line, our small businesses are fighting to stay afloat or sadly shuttering, and our students, teachers, parents, and school staff have been put into an impossible situation.
This Administration has completely failed to implement a national COVID-19 strategy to provide testing and treatment, limit community spread, prevent health disparities, and support a robust economic recovery. Instead of focusing on protecting lives and livelihoods, the President and his team have spread disinformation about this deadly pandemic. It’s dangerous and unacceptable.
My job in Congress is to deliver federal resources to support our community during this incredibly difficult time. I was proud to support the CARES Act to deliver urgently needed support for our families, essential workers, and small businesses, and I know additional support is needed. That’s why my colleagues in the House of Representatives and I passed another COVID relief package, the Heroes Act, on May 15. I’m deeply disappointed that the Administration has waited nearly three months (as of writing) to come to the negotiating table and work out a deal to deliver this desperately-needed relief to our families.
2. What should the federal government do to stimulate economic recovery from the pandemic shutdowns?
In order to recover from this crisis, we need to support working families, invest in our communities, and make a strong national commitment to beat the coronavirus.
First, we must get control of this deadly virus with an aggressive national strategy that includes robust COVID testing, contact tracing, and free treatment for COVID patients as we work to develop a vaccine. There is no time to waste — Americans are dying every day.
Second, as we work to limit the spread of the virus, we must provide the resources our families, essential workers and small business owners need to weather this crisis. Specifically, we need to extend additional business loans to our small businesses, provide debt relief for families struggling to make their payments due to the ongoing economic crisis, extend hazard pay to our essential workers, and provide extended unemployment insurance for workers who have been laid off so they can pay rent and feed their families. I am profoundly disturbed to see my Republican colleagues in Congress play politics during this crisis — we must pass another COVID relief package immediately.
Third, it’s time to put people back to work by investing in America. As we recover, we need to build back better. Even before COVID-19, both parties agreed that our communities are in desperate need of infrastructure upgrades and the good-paying jobs that come with those investments. Here in the 14th District, we need federal resources to upgrade our transit systems, repair and modernize our water and sewer systems, provide broadband internet access for all of our families, and put our country on a path toward a clean energy future by investing in our energy infrastructure.
3. In the wake of the death of George Floyd, President Trump signed an executive order on police reform. It calls for the creation of a database to track police officers with multiple instances of misconduct, federal grants to encourage police departments to meet higher certification standards on use of force, and the greater involvement of social workers and mental health professionals when the police respond to calls dealing with homelessness, mental illness and addiction. The order also calls for police departments to ban the use of chokeholds except when an officer feels his or her life is endangered. Will this be enough to address concerns about police brutality? If not, what other steps should be taken?
It is clear that policing reform is needed to make all of our communities safer, but the President’s executive order will not deliver the changes the American people have called for. The order does not require that our law enforcement officers wear body cameras, it does not require police departments to collect data regarding the use of force, nor does it require officers to intervene when they see use of force being used inappropriately. This order does not ban the use of warrants like the no-knock warrant that led to Breonna Taylor’s death, nor does it ban racial profiling. The executive order doesn’t even require deadly use of force to be used only as a last resort. Those policies are all elements of the comprehensive George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which has broad support among the American people.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed the House on a bipartisan vote — one of them mine. This historic piece of legislation affirms a simple statement of values: Black lives matter.
4. Also in the wake of the death of George Floyd, the House passed the Justice in Policing Act, which would ban police departments from using chokeholds, develop a national standard for use of force, limit the transfer of military weapons to police departments, define lynching as a federal hate crime, establish a national police misconduct registry, and limit qualified immunity, which protects officers from lawsuits over alleged misconduct. Do you support this legislation? Why or why not? What other steps, if any, would you like to see the federal government take on police reform?
I have been so proud and inspired to watch people across the 14th District embrace the cause of equality and justice, to advocate for change and to say that Black lives matter. I listened to my community and I helped lead the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to passage through the House of Representatives.
This historic, bipartisan legislation mandates policing reforms to ensure all Americans feel safe and protected. It gives our communities the tools we need to foster a culture of accountability, transparency and justice in law enforcement.
I literally witnessed change happen across the 14th District this summer. I am truly inspired by the alliances that have formed across our community as we called for justice for Mr. Floyd.
I know it takes true courage to come together, to speak openly with our neighbors and begin to make change. Our community has stood up and rejected the cynical injection of racism into our politics: we will not regard our neighbors with suspicion and fear.
5. What’s your view on President Trump’s decision to commute the sentence of Roger Stone?
The President’s decision to commute his campaign aide’s prison sentence, just like his decision to grant clemency to Rod Blagojevich, stinks of corruption. My community is tired of it, and I am dedicated to cleaning up Washington, restoring trust in government and revitalizing our democracy.
One of the first pieces of legislation I supported as a member of Congress reduces the role of money in politics, strengthens ethics rules to make sure that politicians actually serve the public interest, and makes it easier, not harder to vote. I am hopeful that we can push the For the People Act over the finish line and get it signed into law as soon as possible. We have to make sure that our elected officials are serving the people, not themselves.
6. Please tell us about your civic work in the last two years, whether it’s legislation you have sponsored or other paid or volunteer work to improve your community.
Moms are losing their lives at unacceptable rates in the United States. We have the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, and it’s getting worse. The problem is particularly acute in the Black community. In Illinois, Black women are six times more likely to die from pregnancy related complications as white women. Our country’s maternal mortality disparity has persisted throughout my entire lifetime. As the youngest Black woman in Congress and a registered nurse, I knew I could make a difference.
Three months after I was sworn in, I partnered with my colleague from North Carolina, Dr. Alma Adams, to found the Black Maternal Health Caucus. This March, Dr. Adams and I partnered with Senator Kamala Harris to introduce the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2020: comprehensive legislation to address this health crisis and save moms’ lives.
The single most effective thing we can do to save moms’ lives is ensure all Americans have access to high-quality, affordable health care. So let’s be clear: my colleagues and I are fighting for health care, we are fighting to save moms’ lives, and the Trump Administration is suing to repeal the Affordable Care Act during a pandemic
In 2020, in the United States, we are losing 700 moms a year to pregnancy-related conditions, and the majority of those deaths are preventable. There are thousands of devastated families out there, and children who should have their mother. We must do better — I’ll keep fighting to end this crisis.
7. What are your views on the decision by the U.S. House to impeach President Donald Trump? Was the impeachment process fair or not? How so? If, in your view, the president should not have been impeached, would you have supported censure? Please explain.
I voted to impeach President Trump based on his pattern of corrupt behavior that has continued to this day. The president held up millions in military aid to Ukraine, a nation facing aggression from Russia, while pressuring the Ukrainian government to dig up potentially damaging information on Vice President Joe Biden, his political rival. The President very clearly abused his power for his own personal political gain, when he invited a foreign nation to interfere in our democratic process. Further, by refusing to comply with lawful subpoenas, the President unlawfully obstructed Congress’ impeachment investigation. The President’s actions jeopardized our country’s national security and the integrity of our elections.
8. How would you reduce the federal budget deficit, which now stands at about $1 trillion for 2020? What changes, if any, to the U.S. tax code do you support and why?
Our economy is now in a recession; we need to take aggressive action to stabilize our economy and protect Americans’ livelihoods. The recovery from the ongoing pandemic and recession will likely take a long time, and require sacrifice.
Congress has made some poor spending choices, particularly with the 2017 Republican tax law, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. That law provided a tax break to corporations and the ultra-wealthy at the expense of our middle class families by capping the state and local tax deduction (SALT deduction) many in our community rely on. Not only did this tax law create a financial windfall for the wealthiest in our nation, it will increase the federal deficit by nearly $2 billion over ten years.
Tax reform should put the middle class and small businesses first, not the wealthiest among us. One of my top priorities in Congress is helping our middle class families avoid double taxation by allowing them to once again deduct the full value of their state and local taxes from their federal tax bill. I have championed an effort that resulted in the House twice passing legislation to eliminate that unfair SALT cap; I won’t stop until our families are no longer unfairly burdened.
9. What changes would you like to see made to our nation’s healthcare system? Would you shore up the Affordable Care Act or work to repeal it in full? What’s your view on Medicare for All? And what should be done, if anything, to bring down the cost of prescription drugs?
As a nurse, I believe that health care is a human right.
I helped implement the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as a career civil servant at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — I know exactly what works and what needs to be improved. In Congress, I’ve focused on protecting coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, lowering the cost of prescription drugs and increasing access to quality, affordable health care — including mental health care.
I have heard from families who were forced to ration insulin and other prescription drugs due to the cost. I’m proud that the President signed my legislation, the Lower Insulin Costs Now Act, into law to make lower-cost, generic insulin available more quickly. I’ve also introduced a five-point plan to lower prescription drug costs — each concept in my plan has bipartisan support. Additionally, I introduced legislation to require health insurance plans to cover common medications, devices, and screenings used to treat common chronic illnesses without charging a copayment, coinsurance, or deductible-related fee.
It’s not just prescriptions that are too expensive — I’m also working on reducing premium costs. Some families in the 14th District spend as much as 25 percent of their income on health care. My legislation, the Health Care Affordability Act, ensures that families who buy their own insurance will spend no more than eight and a half percent of their income on premiums. I’m proud to share that bill passed the House with bipartisan support as part of a broad bill to strengthen the ACA.
Another challenge our families face is the high cost of doctor visits. To address that problem, I introduced legislation that requires insurers to cover three primary care doctor visits and three mental health or substance use disorder treatment visits per year.
I’m committed to protecting and improving the ACA. I support a public option, and believe we need to lower the Medicare eligibility age to ensure more Americans are covered. Our health care system requires transformational change, and I support universal health care coverage for all Americans as a goal. Meanwhile, the Trump Administration is suing to dismantle the ACA and the protections the law provides — during a global pandemic. If that lawsuit is successful, 20 million Americans could lose their health insurance. I passed a rule to ensure that no taxpayer dollars will support the Administration’s outrageous undertaking.
10. Do you support or oppose DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and why? Should a path to citizenship be created for the so-called DREAMers? Please explain.
I stand with the Dreamers, who have lived much of their lives in the United States and have made this country their home. Immigrants are vital to the cultural fabric and economic success of our northern Illinois community and to our country as a whole. Creating a path to citizenship for Dreamers is simply the right thing to do, and my votes in Congress will continue to reflect that commitment.
I have consistently held the Trump Administration accountable for their inhumane family separation policy, and have travelled to the border multiple times to provide oversight of the outrageous humanitarian crisis at our border. I passed the U.S. Border Patrol Medical Screening and Standards Act into law to prevent children from dying in federal custody along the U.S. – Mexico border. Children should never be held in cages.
More broadly, I want to be clear that I strongly condemn the racist rhetoric that has become commonplace under this Administration, the unconstitutional Muslim ban, and the use of racial divisions for political gain. We need comprehensive immigration reform that reflects our common values — the scare tactics must stop.
11. What are the three most important issues in your district on which the federal government can and should act?
My immediate priority is keeping our community safe during the coronavirus pandemic. We must implement a national COVID-19 strategy to provide testing and treatment, limit community spread, prevent health disparities, and support a robust economic recovery. My responsibility in Congress is to send federal resources to northern Illinois to support our families, frontline workers, small businesses, teachers and students as we navigate this crisis. I will continue to listen to my community and fight for the federal resources we need.
Second, COVID-19 has only underscored how desperately we need high-quality, affordable health care for our families. We’ve made a lot of progress to secure free COVID testing for our community, but we must also ensure free COVID treatment for those who have been infected. Out-of-pocket health care costs remain too high for many of our families, and I’m working hard to ensure no one gets stuck with an unexpected medical bill after COVID treatment. Additionally, we’re seeing the importance of a national paid family and medical leave policy as we navigate this crisis. We were able to secure paid leave as part of the CARES Act, and I will continue my work to pass the FAMILY Act to create a universal, national paid family and medical leave program. This is a vital policy change for working families in our community.
My third priority is cleaning up Washington. The overt corruption of the Trump Administration has degraded public trust in our government. Our federal elected officials and appointees take an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and “ faithfully discharge the duties of [their] office.” It’s clear that we have federal officials who have not taken that oath to heart, that’s unacceptable. In order for our democracy to work for the people, it has to be by the people — not by the wealthy or by the well-connected — but by everyday Americans. That’s why I support the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would protect and expand the right to vote. I am committed to restoring voting rights and pursuing a strong anti-corruption agenda to ensure every federal official serves the public, not themselves.
12. What is the biggest difference between you and your opponent(s)?
The message that I want to convey to every member of our community is “I see you, I hear you, and I am here to serve you.” My opponent, however, is stuck on the politics of the past that seek to divide our community and make neighbors regard each other with suspicion. We don’t need another out of touch, self-serving politician in Congress. We certainly don’t need another representative who will seek to take away our hard-fought health care protections and restrict womens’ reproductive health care.
In northern Illinois, we look out for our neighbors, and we care about our community. When our neighbor is sick, we deliver a meal train. When they’re out of town, we grab their mail. We may differ in our political beliefs, but we refuse to be divided from our neighbors. My responsibility is to bring those northern Illinois values to Congress; it has been the honor of my life.
13. What action should Congress take, if any, to reduce gun violence?
This issue is personal for our community. Just six weeks after I took office, five people were killed and six were wounded by a mass shooter in Aurora. That preventable tragedy took place just one day after the eleven-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Northern Illinois University.
I’m proud to stand alongside our local Moms Demand Action groups and declare that no child should fear for their life at school, and no worker should fear a mass shooting at their job. Gun violence prevention is a public health issue, and it’s the responsibility of the Congress to respond with data-driven, evidence-based policies.
I’m proud to share that I secured $25 million to study gun violence as a public health issue. These forthcoming CDC and NIH studies will mark the first federal research into gun violence in more than two decades. Additionally, I worked with my colleagues in the House to pass the Bipartisan Background Checks Act and the Enhanced Background Checks Act to establish universal background checks for all gun sales and close loopholes that make it easy for criminals and the dangerously mentally ill to buy guns. Two young women from our district joined me in Washington to call on the U.S. Senate to bring this legislation — supported by more than 90 percent of Americans — to a vote.
As a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I have has made addressing the veteran suicide crisis a top priority. More than 7,300 veterans, servicemembers, reservists, and members of the National Guard die by suicide each year. I’m proud to share that my legislation to ensure high-quality mental health and suicide prevention care for veterans, The Veterans’ Care Quality Transparency Act, passed the House with unanimous support.
14. Is climate change real? Is it significantly man-made? Is it a threat to humankind? What if anything should Congress and the federal government do about it?
Not only is climate change real, it’s happening before our eyes. Northern Illinois has witnessed extreme weather and unprecedented flooding over the past years that has caused millions of dollars in damage to businesses, homes, farms, and infrastructure. We have some of the best farmers in the world in Illinois’ 14th District, and they cannot afford for us to ignore climate science. That’s why I passed legislation to prevent federal agencies like USDA from removing existing public information about climate change from their websites and official communications
As a public health professional, I believe public policy should be driven by science and data. I secured federal resources to fund CDC’s Climate and Health Program and strengthen our nation’s ability to respond to emerging health threats brought on by climate change. Additionally, I support the 100% Clean Economy Act, which sets a national goal of achieving a 100% clean energy economy by 2050. Smart investments in clean energy infrastructure will bring high-quality green jobs to our community and will make northern Illinois a leader in this sector.
15. What should Congress do to ensure the solvency of Social Security and Medicare?
To ensure the solvency of these vital earned benefits, we must reject President Trump’s proposal to do away with the payroll tax that funds our Social Security program. For the past two years, the Trump administration has consistently proposed deep cuts to Medicare and Social Security. The President’s 2020 budget, for example, included a $1.5 trillion cut to Medicare. I have aggressively fought back against these egregious budget proposals.
Social Security is the most important source of retirement income for four out of five seniors, and I will not allow us to go back to the days when our seniors faced poverty instead of the dignified retirement they worked all their lives to earn. Further, I’m committed to working to ensure that these earned benefits are around for millennials and Generation Z and addressing the impact of the women’s wage gap on their retirement security.
I refuse to play political games with the benefits our seniors have worked their whole lives to deserve.
16. What should Congress do to address the student loan crisis? Would you use the word “crisis”?
Forty four million Americans hold $1.6 trillion in debt — this is a crisis. We’re asking young people to sign over their financial freedom to predatory firms just to have a chance at earning a degree. That’s unacceptable. I’m proud that I was able to secure deferral on student loan payments for Illinoisians during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I know our students need long-term relief from crippling student loan debt. The Heroes Act, the COVID relief package approved by the House on May 15, includes up to $10,000 of debt forgiveness to help borrowers who are struggling to make their payments during this economic crisis. We must help our students avoid bankruptcy during this challenging time.
As the only Illinois member of Congress who serves on an education committee, I am committed to making college more affordable, providing free community college, and providing relief for students struggling with loan debt. I’ve introduced legislation to reduce barriers to financial aid, increase transparency in the student loan process, and create a grant program to support underserved students with unexpected college costs. Additionally, I’ve focused my oversight work on increasing transparency and accountability at the Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos to make certain our students receive the public education they deserve.
17. What should our nation’s relationship be with Russia?
Russian hackers targeted the Illinois State Board of Elections in 2016 and stole the personal information of 76,000 Illinois voters — that stolen information included Illinoisans’ names, addresses, partial Social Security numbers, dates of birth and driver’s license numbers. Russia needs to face consequences for this action, and I’m appalled that President Trump has taken no action to secure our elections from further interference — just as he has taken no action to punish Russia for paying bounties to the Taliban for attacks on American soldiers.
As the Vice Chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, I’m working to keep our nation safe from our enemies, foreign and domestic. That work includes securing our elections against ongoing attacks from Russia, China and Iran. Election security is national security.
Russia is not a friend to our nation, and I find President Trump’s consistent praise and communications with President Putin deeply troubling.
18. What’s your view on the use of tariffs in international commerce? Has President Trump imposed tariffs properly and effectively? Please explain.
We have some of the best farmers in the world in Illinois’ 14th District. Our farmers don’t want government handouts, they want to sell their goods on the international market. The President’s chaotic trade policy has curtailed our ability to trade with one of our farmers’ most important export clients, China. This ill-conceived trade war has thrown our famers into financial and personal distress.
After inhibiting our farmers’ ability to export their products, the Trump Administration promised Market Facilitation Program payments to our agriculture businesses. When reporting showed that the Administration was considering going back on that promise, I stepped in to ensure our farmers received the aid they were promised. Between the trade war, extraordinarily tough weather conditions, and the coronavirus pandemic, our farmers are facing tremendous uncertainty.
Farmers throughout the 14th know they have a champion in me, and I’m grateful to receive the endorsement of the Illinois Agricultural Association’s ACTIVATOR PAC. During this challenging economic time, our farmers know that I will deliver for them, whether it’s securing temporary emergency shipments of propane, ensuring the USDA is providing the accurate information farmers depend on, standing up for our biofuels producers, or making certain our farmers receive the federal support they were promised.
19. Does the United States have a responsibility to promote democracy in other countries? Please explain.
Our country has long been a beacon of democracy and freedom to the world. Those values are critical to our diplomatic strength in the international community, but our democratic values are under assault.
As Vice Chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, I’m working to ensure our country remains a vibrant democracy in the face of disinformation and hacking from adversaries like Russia, China and Iran. Challenges to our democracy aren’t solely coming from abroad, voter suppression — particularly among communities of color — remain a stain on our democracy. We’re also facing the challenge of holding our November elections amidst a deadly pandemic and the President’s ongoing assault on the U.S. Postal Service. Americans should not have to choose between their health and their Constitutional right to vote; I’m thankful that all Illinois voters will be able to vote safely from home this year.
I was heartbroken to lose one of our country’s foremost advocates for voting rights, Congressman John Lewis, earlier this year, and I hope to continue his legacy by passing a restored Voting Rights Act into law. The House has passed legislation to ensure all Americans have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process, and I’m hopeful we’ll be able to take that legislation across the finish line in the near future.
20. What should Congress do to limit the proliferation of nuclear arms?
Thoughtful diplomacy and strong leadership are critical to American national security. I disagree strongly with the Trump Administration’s actions to hollow out our diplomatic corps while increasing our nuclear arsenal. I believe those actions have made us less safe. It’s my responsibility in Congress to pursue all avenues to lessen the risk of a nuclear catastrophe.
In response to the President’s decision to withdraw the United States from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons, I voted to prohibit funding for U.S. missiles that do not comply with the INF treaty until the Administration proposes a detailed framework to renegotiate that agreement. When the Trump Administration considered conducting the first U.S. nuclear test explosion since 1992, I voted to prohibit any funding for new explosive nuclear weapons testing in FY 2021.
The United States is strongest when it leads the world through the force of our example, and with the President’s leadership, we’re losing our ability to lead.
21. Please list all relatives on public or campaign payrolls and their jobs on those payrolls.
22. What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain.
It gives me so much pride that the first Black woman elected to the U.S Senate, Carol Moseley Braun, represented all of us in Illinois. She was a barrier breaker in so many ways. Women weren’t even allowed to wear pant suits on the Senate floor until Sen. Moseley Braun challenged the rule in 1993! I grew up seeing Sen. Moseley Braun on TV, it was powerful to see a woman leader who looked like me. I hope that I can provide the inspiration she gave me to the next generation of young women.
23. What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
I loved watching “The Last Dance,” this summer. I was a kid during the Chicago Bulls championship three-peats, so I loved revisiting that period as an adult. I was so inspired by the players’ commitment to their team and their craft. I have to say I also sincerely enjoyed the 90’s fashion.