|KIRK: Back to being a "freshman" in D.C.|
Mark Kirk, who for the past decade was a representative from the North Shore suburbs, took his oath of office Monday, and the Republican partisans made sure to engage in symbolism by having Peter Fitzgerald at his side – showing that the GOP had seized back a political post they probably regarded as stolen from them with the 2004 election that shifted Barack Obama from the Statehouse Scene to Capitol Hill to begin with.
DESPITE THE FACT that many of the Republican officials who will be new to Washington got elected because of their conservative ideological ties, Kirk is the exception. All the rhetoric we heard throughout the campaign season indicated he was different.
“Moderate” is the word we heard over and over. Many of the political pundits have gone on to say they think Kirk will be the exception in the Senate’s Republican caucus – the official who might be willing to compromise on serious issues, while putting aside political partisanship if it means getting something done.
I’m not quite so sure, mainly because I realize how suspicious some people among the Illinois Republicans are about Kirk. They see his record as a representative as including support for the concept of abortion remaining legal and a willingness to let gay people serve openly in the military – even though he himself remains commissioned as an officer in the Naval Reserve.
Which is why I think Kirk is going to be a reliable vote for the Republican caucus, at least for his first couple of years in the Senate (he doesn’t have to worry about re-election until the 2016 election cycle).
HE’S GOING TO feel some pressure to go along with the majority of his new colleagues – unless he wants to be ostracized from Day One. He will wind up casting many votes completely in line with the Republican caucus (which won’t be as many as he would have cast had he remained in the House of Representatives, where the GOP has taken over the majority).
In short, Illinois is going to have many split votes, with Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., in favor of something touted by the Senate’s leadership, and Kirk being among the opposition.
The stories that have been coming up about the possible activity by the Senate in these final few days of a Congress controlled entirely by Democrats ought to give us a clue. Kirk has said that if a measure comes up in the next few days to eliminate the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that lets gay people serve in the military provided they do nothing to draw attention to themselves, he will vote against it.
Many of the people who are taking that kind of vote are doing so because they see the alternative as one where gay people could openly serve in the military without any restriction. Even though Kirk in the past has supported the general principle concerning gay people in the military, he’s not about to challenge his political party’s stance on this issue. When the issue gets debated by a Senate committee reviewing a Pentagon study on the issue, Kirk is going to go out of his way to say as little as he absolutely has to on the issue.
THE SAME GOES for the DREAM Act, that measure that may come up for a vote in the Senate to allow young people without citizenship who have lived the bulk of their lives in this country to qualify for the same benefits to attend college or serve in the military just like anyone else.
During the campaign, Kirk often cited the fact that part of his education came at the UNAM (the National Autonomous University in Mexico City – one of Latin America’s most prestigious colleges). But he also has made it clear he will support his partisan allies who don’t want a favorable vote on anything perceived as immigration-oriented, unless something comes first that can be perceived as tighter restrictions along the U.S./Mexico border.
So if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., persists with his talk of pushing for a vote on the DREAM Act this week, he’s going to do it with one less vote (now-former Sen. Roland Burris would have been a “yes,” compared to Kirk’s anticipated “no”),
Those academics who gathered Monday at the University of Illinois at Chicago to urge Kirk to vote in favor of DREAM were engaging in a token political action, as Kirk isn’t about to risk putting himself on the GOP “black list” in his first week in office on an immigration-related measure.
IN FACT, I expect him to go out of his way to say as little as he has to. Not only for this week, or this month. Perhaps it will be for the upcoming year.
2011 could go into our political history books as the period in which Illinois was represented by the ambitions of Durbin (who deep-down has dreams of someday having the label “Majority Leader” in front of his name) and a soft-spoken temperament from Kirk – whose bottom line was that he was a reliable vote for the GOP stance on any issue of significance.