BATAVIA – U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood promoted health care and gun control legislation she is supporting in Congress during a town hall meeting with constituents on Feb. 16 in Batavia.
Underwood, D-Naperville, reiterated many of the themes that led to her election as the youngest black woman member of Congress at the age of 32.
“I believe health care is a human right,” Underwood declared. “I hope we can get to the point where we don’t have tens of millions of uninsured. That’s unacceptable.”
About 135 citizens filled the council chambers in Batavia City Hall for the freshman congresswoman’s first town hall event since being sworn into office six weeks ago.
“I have been itching to stand in front of you,” said Underwood, whose 14th Congressional District includes much of Kane County.
The mass shooting in Aurora the previous day both cast a shadow over the meeting and helped fuel the conversation about guns and mental health issues.
“I am completely heartbroken and devastated by what happened yesterday,” Underwood said.
The crowd applauded when Underwood said she is co-sponsoring a bill requiring universal background checks for all gun purchases.
“The time for action is now,” said Underwood, who also called for increased access to mental health services.
Underwood is supporting health care legislation banning “junk insurance” plans which discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions.
Asked by a Batavia woman about the spiraling cost of prescription drugs, Underwood expressed sympathy and said she wants to work to make medications affordable, but not without careful deliberations first.
“I don’t want to stifle innovation,” Underwood said.
Underwood, who serves on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, called for investment and improvement in the Veterans Administration health system.
The congresswoman received considerable applause when she said the VA needs administrators who know about providing care to veterans, “instead of being Mr. Trump’s Mar-A-Lago friends.”
While most of the questions and comments focused on health care, Underwood also was asked about President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration on border security.
“I am deeply concerned by this effort to work around Congress,” Underwood said, calling the president’s action “inappropriate and wrong.”
Underwood said she is confident that Trump’s declaration will be struck down in court and that she will support the expected House resolution opposing the president’s move.
The congresswoman said she supports the border security package approved by Congress and signed by Trump, which includes additional border officers, judges and smart technology to deal with illegal immigration.
“I understand the president didn’t get the money he wanted” for a physical wall, Underwood said, but this did not justify Trump’s use of the emergency declaration.
“This is about separation of powers and enforcing the Constitution,” Underwood said after the meeting.
When asked about the threat of climate change and the Green New Deal proposal from U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, Underwood said the world is facing a crisis demanding “immediate and swift action,” and called for greater use of renewable energy sources.
However, she described the Green New Deal as “a resolution of ideas and goals” designed to spur discussion, rather than be a specific legislative blueprint.
Underwood serves on the House Homeland Security Committee, working on a subcommittee aimed at ensuring the integrity of elections.
“We need some real attention paid to the security of our elections,” Underwood said, garnering more applause. She expressed worries about threats posed by foreign hackers.
In addition to her committee assignments for homeland security and veterans affairs, Underwood also serves on the House Education and Labor Committee.
Underwood unseated incumbent Republican Randy Hultgren last November in a mid-term election that saw Democrats regain control of the House.
Since her swearing-in Jan. 3, Underwood has been using a space in Campton Hills, formerly occupied by Hultgren, for her 14th District office. Underwood said she soon will be moving the district office to a location near the intersection of Routes 38 and 59 in West Chicago.