Sen. Dick Durbin On FEMA, Saudi Arabia, The Farm Bill And Another Possible Shutdown

December 11, 2018
 

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

It's the last scheduled week that the Senate is in session, the 2018 Farm Bill came out Monday night, and our leaders need to agree on a spending plan by Dec. 21 before the government shuts down again. Sen. Dick Durbin joined The 21st​ to talk about all this and more on Tuesday morning.

Immigration And A Possible Shutdown

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) says that while he would vote to strengthen border security, President Trump's demand for $5 billion to fund a border wall is both "unrealistic" and "medieval."

Senator Durbin made his remarks to The 21st early Tuesday morning, shortly before President Trump declared he'd be "proud" to shut down the government in a meeting with Democratic leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi. 

Durbin went on to say that increasing border security requires something far different from a large wall along the border. 

"When I ask the people who are experts, they say we need technology and personnel. I want to tell you, I'm ready to vote for that. I want border security. I think most Americans want border security. But this notion of some medieval wall, subject to ladders and tunnels overcoming it, is just the president stuck on a campaign theme that really isn't realistic," he said.

The Farm Bill

Congress has released the final version of the 2018 Farm Bill. The 2014 version of the bill expired on Oct. 1 before lawmakers could reach an agreement.

Durbin said that he believes he will vote "yes" on the final version and is optimistic that Congress will pass it by the end of the year. It also includes an amendment that he and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) introduced that would provide grant funding for emergency management agencies in rural areas.

"The first responders, particularly in rural and downstate areas, are literally life-savers. They need the best equipment, they need the opportunity to apply for federal grants so that many volunteer operations are saving lives in downstate Illinois."

The U.S-Saudi Relationship

Durbin said it's "long overdue" that the United States rethink our alliance with Saudi Arabia. He cited numerous examples that he believes should give Americans pause—the 9/11 attacks, the war in Yemen, and the recent murder of journalist and American resident Jamal Khashoggi.

He also reiterated his support for expelling the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., along with withdrawing support for the war in Yemen, which has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.

Federal Assistance To Rural Areas After Natural Disasters

Durbin visited Taylorville this past weekend with Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker at Lt. Governor-elect Juliana Stratton after one of a series of tornadoes struck that city on Dec. 1. He said he is not satisfied with the way FEMA allocates money to rural communities after natural disasters, and that Republican Rep. Rodney Davis' (R-Taylorville) changes (included in the FAA reauthorization bill signed into law in October) don't go far enough.

Durbin said he's reached the point where he stops promising towns and cities that adequate federal help is on the way.

"I stopped a long time ago saying 'hang on tight, we’re going back to Washington bring back the money.' Because the formula that is currently written, even with Congressman Davis’ change, does not give us a fighting chance when it comes to small town and rural America," he said.

Looking Ahead To 2019

Come January, Illinois will have three new members in its Congressional delegation—all Democrats: Rep-elect Lauren Underwood (IL-14), Rep-elect Sean Casten (IL-6), and Rep-elect Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (IL-4).

"Three great new members," said Durbin. "I've told them: assemble a good staff. But you're going to win re-election in your first year you're in office, not in the second campaign year. You'll win it by being responsive back home to constitutent needs, and to focus on your district at home more than becoming a superstar in Washington. That'll take some time, and they're all going to reach that point." 

As for Gov-elect J.B. Pritzker, Durbin says he hopes to be in Springfield for his inauguration on January 14.

"I'm still waiting for Senator McConnell (Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McDonnell) to announce my fate in January, but I'd like to be back home. It'll be a great celebration."