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Windy City Times: Mike Quigley Talks VA, Trump and the 2017 Congress

Nov 23, 2016
In the News

The following article was published on November 23, 2016. A link to the article can be found here.

By Gretchen Rachel Hammond

U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley ( D-Ill. ) has been a fierce champion of LGBTQ rights on Capitol Hill.

Vice-Chair of the Congressional LGBT Caucus and founding member of the Transgender Equality Taskforce created last year, Quigley has led the charge on issues ranging from lifting Food and Drug Administration ( FDA ) prohibitions on gay and bisexual men donating blood to marriage equality and transgender rights.

However, with Donald Trump's Electoral College win on Nov. 8 alongside a Republican-controlled Congress, the always uphill climb for Quigley and his colleagues has become decidedly steeper.

Anti-LGBT signals are already coming from the incoming Trump administration with the appointment of Sen. Jeff Sessions ( R-Ala. ) as attorney general along with rabid opponent of LGBT rights Vice President-elect Mike Pence overseeing the transition team.

Meanwhile, the Veterans Administration ( VA ) announced it would no longer proceed with a plan to cover gender-confirmation surgeries for the nearly 150,000 transgender military veterans who rely upon its services.

In a statement released Nov. 17, Quigley stated, "Our transgender veterans serve our country with the upmost courage and commitment, and they deserve the medical care needed to lead happy, healthy lives."

"I am extremely disappointed by the VA's announcement to withdraw their plan to offer medical procedures to treat gender dysphoria, a change I was proud to support earlier this year," he added. "Outdated and discriminatory restrictions should not interfere with our service members' receipt of fair treatment and quality care."

Quigley also spoke with Windy City Times on what the 115th Congress, a Trump administration and a possible anti-LGBT Supreme Court nomination will mean for both the work of his caucus and LGBT civil rights in 2017 and beyond.

Windy City Times: Democrats are clearly reeling from the election results. What are you doing to regroup at this point?

Mike Quigley: Well, you're right. I've never personally won an election by 40 votes and, at the end of the night, felt like I had lost by 40 votes. We had a meeting with the caucus, [House] leader [Nancy] Pelosi and the rest of the leadership team. It's as simple as getting up every morning, going to work and working on the issues we always have. We have to remember that Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote. Three states that were 1 percent ( and Florida was close ) determined the electoral process. You combine the fact that perhaps the Clinton campaign team should have focused more on Michigan and Wisconsin, the [FBI Director James] Comey stuff and the issues of healthcare costs, and it was a perfect storm at the end.

How do we regroup? You rebuild, learn from what took place and move forward. You see what common ground, if any, you have with the new administration and then you work together and, where there's differences, you fight as hard as you possibly can.

WCT: A lot of people in the community are concerned about these cabinet appointments.

MQ: The appointment [of Steve Bannon] was as disturbing as any of it. Our next vice president signed a draconian anti-LGBTQ religious-liberty law just last year, he supported conversion therapy as a member of Congress, he said that marriage equality would lead to societal collapse and his words were "homosexuality is a choice." That is scary stuff for a guy who is leading the transition team and who some are calling "the rational voice in the room."

WCT: Are there enough moderate Republicans in the Senate that extremist appointments could be blocked?

MQ: I don't know what the Republican strategy is going to be. You've heard of the nuclear option [overruling a 60-vote confirmation by a majority vote]. Do I think there's some rational Republicans over there? Yeah. Do I think they have enough courage to balk the Tea Party and a president popular within his own party? I don't know and that's what concerns me.

While I was somewhat encouraged by the president-elect's comments on marriage equality that it remains the law of the land, when he appoints an arch-conservative [to the Supreme Court], which apparently he is of a mind to do, that man or woman is there for life and they're not going to call President Trump and say "How do you want me to vote on this?" If you're an archconservative on issues, it's unlikely that the one issue you're going to be liberal on is marriage equality, no matter what the president says.

WCT: What about Trump's threat to strike down executive orders?

MQ: This has been the worst Congress in the history of the United States on the environment. While it is not an issue specific to the community, it's important to all of us and [Trump] can strike all of those things down. He can walk away from the Paris Treaty. By appropriations internally and appointments, he can do a tremendous amount of damage.

Everything the president has tried to do dealing with immigration and refugee issues, Trump can tell State "we're not bringing anybody over."

I was in the [refugee] camps in Jordan and I saw, first-hand, the problems that exist there and the kind of country we should be. [Trump] can reject all of that. With an arch-conservative House and Senate, it's going to be very hard for me, as the only appropriator in Illinois, to help us with the things that we care about: HIV funding, research needs, aid to people with HIV; dozens of appropriation matters that are going to make a big difference to us. Three more states won in the Senate would have made a world of difference. It keeps me up at night,

WCT: Is there any counter-strategy at all being discussed?

MQ: We don't know just what the new president will do and how far he will go. We don't know how House and Senate Republicans will act as a body, how unified they will be. Our job is to appeal to the American public and those moderate sensibilities to not go back in time and reduce these rights that exist and then focus on the Senate and the House in 2018. Our job is to message, to fight with every vote we have and leverage every vote we have.

It's hard to imagine that the Tea Party people are going to be happy about raising the debt ceiling. My job is to leverage every time the White House needs Democratic support to the maximum extent possible; to protect individual rights, the environment, a woman's right to choose; all the things that are our core principles. Also to drive resources back to Chicago. [Trump] has said there will be no federal aid to sanctuary cities. My answer is "Oh, yeah?" We are going to devise every strategy possible to leverage whatever influence we have to push the new president, House and Senate Republicans to do the right thing. We're working on it. We're doing the best we can. It's a painful lesson that elections matter.

WCT: A lot of folks want to run in 2018 as outsiders or Democrats to try and turn Trump into a lame duck after two years. Feasible?

MQ: I would always encourage as many people as possible to get involved, to the greatest extent possible, in politics; voter registration and education programs, recruiting candidates, being a candidate. Being a state rep or senator, alderman or county commissioner, being on your local school council matters. I would strongly encourage everyone to get involved and not to give up. You give up and all hope is lost.