Interview with Congressman Dan Lipinski


A conservative Democrat from Illinois, Dan Lipinski has served in the House of Representatives since 2004. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Duke University in 1998. Duke Political Review previously interviewed Dr. Lipinski in 2015.

Dr. Lipinski recently returned to Duke to discuss the outcome of the 2016 election. He sat down with DPR’s Rose Farah for a follow-up interview.

DPR: What do you expect to happen during Trump’s first 100 days in office?

DL: I expect that there will be some symbolic moves on Obamacare. There are some fights amongst Republicans about what to do with Obamacare. Some say they want to pass a complete repeal before Trump gets in office so on the day he gets sworn in, he can sign that. I do not think you can get that through the Senate. I think there are a good number of Republicans who understand that if you just repeal Obamacare and don’t do anything to replace it, it’s going to be a disaster for Republicans. I think Republicans are facing a disaster no matter what they do with the Affordable Care Act because once they do something – and there are no easy answers – they are going to own it and it’s going to be tough. For the last six years, they have run against Obamacare and that has helped them. But once they own the healthcare system essentially, and they own the policies that shape the healthcare system, it is not going to be good for Republicans either because people are not going to be happy. Healthcare costs are going to continue to go up no matter what. Not to mention if twenty million people lose their healthcare. Even if they do not like it now, they will be thinking, “I liked my bad insurance more than no insurance.” I think this is the biggest problem for Republicans right now because they have made such a big issue, and they now have to deal with it.

DPR: Will the American people ultimately be disappointed with the outcome of the election?

DL: It is going to be very interesting to see. I do not know how much Donald Trump is going to be able to convince people that whatever he does is good and positive. There is bound to be disappointment that he’s not going to be able to get as much done as he said he would get done. I think he built expectations very high, but I think the same thing happened in 2008 when Barack Obama ran for president. Expectations were very high. Some of it was candidate Obama, but some of it was beyond him. People were looking for answers, and he really inspired them. I think they raised their expectations higher than could be met. There is one thing we know Donald Trump can do very well: he is a great salesman. Is he going to be able to convince people that what he did made their lives better? Sometimes the reality and people’s beliefs don’t always match. Maybe he will be able to sell what he does and make people think that things have gotten better.

DPR: Which is more broken: the Democratic or Republican Party? Why?

DL: I thought, like most people, that Donald Trump would not win and that the Republican party would be facing the question, “What is the Republican party now?” Donald Trump really brought into the open that there are a lot of Republican voters who have ideas and views different from what Republican leaders are proposing. Trade is a big issue that stands out in that regard. I think there are many more populist Republican voters than there are amongst its leadership. Now that Donald Trump has won, for the time being, we are not talking about these problems within the Republican party. They may pop up though as things move forward. The question is: is Donald Trump going to remake the party or not? Is the party going to change? Is he going to be able to keep the party together on some of these big issues? The Democratic party, I think, is more cohesive, but in some ways it is lacking. What is our driving force here? Who exactly are we? What exactly do we do? The big thing for me is how do we capture more house seats? I think that’s a big question for Democrats in the House. What do we need to do in the next election to do that?

DPR: Do you believe the conservative coalition can unite behind Trump, namely on divisive campaign topics you mentioned like trade?

DL: I think he may temporarily be able to keep the party united enough. I do not think that will last. I think that once Donald Trump has left – whether that is four years from now or eight years from now – once again the question is going to be, “What is the Republican party?” He is going to have problems with the Freedom Caucus also because they are going to be making demands. They are going to want things he doesn’t want, just as Speaker Boehner and Speaker Ryan have had problems with the Freedom Caucus. It think it’s going to mean on some issues that Democratic votes are going to be needed for some things Donald Trump wants to do because he’s going to be losing some Republicans in the House. I am not sure what that means, but from my perspective, that is a very good thing. He is going to have to come to Democrats on some things – maybe on an infrastructure bill, for example.

There is one thing we know Donald Trump can do very well: he is a great salesman. Is he going to be able to convince people that what he did made their lives better?

DPR: In the aftermath of this election, do you expect any kind of party realignment to occur?

DL: It is very hard to say about a realignment and what happens. I think there is going to be a lot of focus on those people who voted for Obama and then voted for Trump. Republicans are going to be saying, “How do we keep these people,” and Democrats are going to be saying, “How are we going to be getting people back?” It is going to be interesting to see how that goes. I do not think a major realignment is going to happen. I have not really thought about how it can happen. I am not really sure how it would occur today. I could be wrong, but at this point, I do not see a major realignment.

DPR: In the past week, Donald Trump offered Lt. General Michael Flynn the post of National Security Advisor and Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions the position of Attorney General. He also chose Mike Pompeo to lead the CIA. Given these choices, who else should we expect to see appointed to leadership positions?

DL: Donald Trump has shown some political savvy in the few appointments he has made so far. Certainly not to say I approve of the appointments – especially Steve Bannon to be Senior Counselor at the White House – but it was a savvy move for him politically to put Priebus into the more important role of Chief of Staff, but then to throw a bone to his supporter Steve Bannon and those people who are like him, giving him this other job as chief strategist in the White House. The question will be, “Who does he really listen to?” But the Chief of Staff role is much more important. Again, I put out a statement asking Donald Trump to reconsider appointing Steve Bannon to that position because he has given voice to some offensive and divisive statements. I know Mike Pompeo. I have worked with him on some issues in the house, and everyone seems to agree that he has a very good pick for CIA director. Then you get more controversial with Flynn. In some ways he is well-respected, but then he has made some statements that have not reflected well on him. And there are some questions about Jeff Sessions. But it sort of shows Trump appointing some people to the important positions that are going to be well respected and others that catering to supporters of his and some of the more unfortunately outlandish statements he has made.

DPR: How can Democrats, with a minority in the House and Senate, combat Trump’s unfavorable policies?

DL: First of all, in the Senate, you need sixty votes except when budget reconciliation is used. Republicans will try to use budget reconciliation. It’s complicated. But most issues will need Democrats in the Senate to pass anything. I also think that for most of Trump’s crazy and offensive policy ideas, there’s not a majority in the House even to pass those things. You had 50-55 Republicans who either said Donald Trump should step down or who said that they would not support Donald Trump. Paul Ryan is someone who really has a good heart, who I think was personally offended by Donald Trump, the things that he has said, some of these policies that he proposed. So Paul Ryan is going to make sure those things don’t get done. I think that just because there is a Republican majority in the Senate, I think so many of these things are just going to be rejected. They have no chance of being passed in the House and the Senate. The bigger question is those issues where Trump can act himself. And we will see what was just rhetoric and what he changes on and what he can do.

DPR: You are a conservative Democrat. You are pro-life and anti-same sex marriage. How do you fit in with the modern Democratic Party?

DL: Well you know, same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court decided that one. I am a Democrat because I believe there are important things government needs to do. I think my pro-life position fits in there because I think the unborn are in need of defense. Government should be there to defend them. That’s generally why I am a Democrat. On the environment  – it is very important to protect the environment. When it comes to seniors – government has an important role to play there. That is what makes me a Democrat. I am not a big government Democrat, but I believe there are things that need to do. The libertarian philosophy concerns me because they think that government can step back from all these areas and that everything is going to be fine. I think a lot of people would suffer and government has an important role to play in education, in helping the poor, job retraining is important. That is what makes me a Democrat: I believe in the role of government in those things.

DPR: You have mentioned a few times the need for the Democratic Party to almost redefine, or remarket, itself to the American public. How do you hope to see that happen?

DL: I do not have any clear answers on it right now, but we need to make sure that we are not giving people the impression that we are an elitist party. There are certainly people who have this belief. You look at the returns in this election, especially in rural areas, Donald Trump won overwhelming. His numbers compared to Romney’s were just really going up double digits. So I think we need to figure out how to be better at talking. Maybe some policy changes – as a pro-life Democrat, I think as a party we need to be more accepting of pro-life views and pro-life candidates than we are. I am not expecting the party to change its position. It is a pro-choice party, but there are some things we can soften our stance on and can at least be more accepting of people who say, “I am a Democrat, but I am pro-life.” I know a lot of people who feel that the Democratic party has pushed them out on that issue, and that has hurt our party. When we were in the majority last time, we had about 56 or 58 members vote for the Stupak amendment on the healthcare bill when it came through the House the first time. The Stupak amendment said that no public funding for abortions or for insurance plans that cover abortions should be allowed. We had a similar issue we had four Democrats vote for. We are down over 60-65 members than what we were then. At least on the issue of public funding for abortion, I think the party could soften up. I think the majority of the American people do not believe in public funding for abortion. But that is just part of it – there is a lot we need to talk about. I think there is a little too much talk now that the Democratic party is in shambles after this election. I do not believe that is true, but we need to be able to reach out in those districts that we need to win, we need to be able to reach out to those people.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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