Bustos urges U.S. reps. to 'stay local'

Head of powerful Dem campaign committee presses issues over impeachment and ‘making sure we do more town halls than tweets’

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos appears at the City Club of Chicago Monday. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos appears at the City Club of Chicago Monday. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

CHICAGO — The Quad Cities’ congresswoman is urging representatives to stay focused on centrist issues like health care and infrastructure in her new role as head of a powerful Democratic campaign committee.

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos of Moline said she’s following U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in advocating centrist issues over what she referred to as “impeachment talk,” adding, “You’ve got to stay local.”

Bustos, appointed head of the powerful Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last year after winning easy re-election in a district won by Donald Trump, made the remarks in a breakfast appearance Monday at the City Club of Chicago.

Saying one of her main goals is “returning power to the people,” Bustos pushed what she called a Free the People Agenda concentrating on health care and drug prices, infrastructure, and corruption issues including voting rights and campaign financing.

Adding that she’s “making sure we do more town halls than tweets,” she urged members of Congress to heed their constituents, and she lauded freshmen Illinois U.S. Reps. Lauren Underwood and Sean Casten as being illustrative of that, with Underwood’s emphasis on health-care issues, including calling out “junk insurance plans,” and Casten’s emphasis on climate change as a scientist.

“You’ve got to be hyperlocal,” Bustos said, pointing out how she tries to stay in touch with voters across her own district, which stretches from the northwest corner of the state and Rockford along the Mississippi River to the Quad Cities and inland to Peoria. Some 80 percent of its towns have 5,000 residents or less; 60 percent have 1,000 or less.

“I never hear somebody bring up the Mueller report on what I call Supermarket Saturdays,” she said, referring to how she routinely spends Saturdays in local stores asking constituents about issues. “I do hear, ‘Get the job done.’”


“I never hear somebody bring up the Mueller report on what I call Supermarket Saturdays. I do hear, ‘Get the job done.’”

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

To Bustos, that means concentrating on economic issues key to the residents of western Illinois, especially health care and drug prices and infrastructure. She said there are opportunities to get major legislation passed and signed into law in those areas, as President Trump has signaled his willingness to endorse reforms on drug prices and on capital spending.

Bustos cited the $70 million spent by pharmaceutical firms in lobbying Congress, and called for Medicare to negotiate drug prices with “cost transparency” to justify charges.

She pointed to talks last week involving Trump and Pelosi, in which they addressed a potential $1.8 trillion national infrastructure bill, and Trump reportedly said, “Let’s just make it two.”

“So very deep thinking and planning on that one,” Bustos said, to laughs in the audience. But she emphasized the political will is there in both major parties to get things accomplished in both areas.

According to Bustos, her constituents aren’t interested in a state capital bill or legal marijuana, but they are interested in what’s to be gained by concentrating on infrastructure, including locks and dams, the power grid, and hospitals and schools.

“If we don’t invest in our rural communities, it will be devastating to Illinois,” she said. Pointing out that agriculture is still the prime economic driver statewide, Bustos added, “Rural broadband has to be one of the highest priorities” — so critical she called it “the new electricity to those rural towns.”

Bustos did not diminish the apparent constitutional crisis the federal government is facing. “I think we should be very concerned,” she said, about U.S. Attorney General William Barr “not being candid,” in Senate testimony, and she likewise questioned Barr’s judgment in “making a decision not to appear” before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. But she stressed that it has to be couched in a search for the truth, not a rush for impeachment.

“You’ve got to be guided by the truth in everything you do,” she said. Bustos urged congressional committees to “seek the truth,” but without letting it dominate results on those key issues of health care and infrastructure.

For Bustos, that means concentrating on key issues in Congress, while also trying to recruit and groom candidates nationwide for the 2020 election. She didn’t minimize the difficulty of that, or its importance, saying, “We’ve got a difficult year and a half ahead of us.”