- Democratic Member of Congress
- Member of the radical Progressive Caucus
- Co-sponsored a bill to ease trade restrictions against Communist Cuba
Jan Schakowsky is a Democrat member of Congress who represents the Ninth District of Illinois.
Born in Chicago in 1944, Schakowsky grew up in that city's Rogers Park section. After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1965, she worked briefly as a schoolteacher. In 1969 she established National Consumers Unite, a consumer-advocacy group that led a campaign to imprint freshness dates on food packaging in stores. From 1976-1985 she worked as a director of the Illinois Public Action Council, another consumer-advocacy organization. In 1985 she became Executive Director of the Illinois State Council of Senior Citizens, where she was employed until 1990. In 1990 she was elected to the state legislature.
When Democrat congressman Sidney Yates in 1998 announced his retirement after having served 48 years in the House of Representatives, Schakowsky used her political connections to defeat a veteran state senator in that year's Democratic congressional primary. Then, buoyed by the efforts of some 1,500 activist workers and a $1.4 million donation from EMILY's List, Schakowsky proceeded to easily win the general election in the heavily Democratic district.
Schakowsky today is a member of the Democratic Progressive Caucus in the House of Representatives. The Almanac of American Politics describes her as "an outspoken progressive, one of the leftmost members of the Democratic Caucus."
"I don't think I can be defined as too far left in a district like this," says Schakowsky, who once told a writer for the local Democratic Socialists of America (DSA): "The American people are not ideological; therefore, the way to go is to attack private power." Schakowsky once received an award from DSA, which is the chief American arm of the Socialist International.
In 2002 Schakowsky joined 44 other members of Congress, all but two of whom were Democrats, in signing a letter addressed to Secretary of State Colin Powell. The letter alleged that the Colombian government had committed human rights violations in its war against the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), a guerrilla terrorist outfit that served as the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party and enjoyed the backing of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. Published worldwide and used as propaganda by pro-FARC activists, the letter made no mention of the thousands of murders and atrocities FARC had committed. It further exhorted Powell "to take our concerns into account when determining whether to approve additional military aid for Colombia this year."
Schakowsky is a close political ally of fellow Progressive Caucus member Nancy Pelosi and was an early backer of the latter's successful bid to become House Minority Leader in 2002. Pelosi rewarded Schakowsky with an appointment to the powerful position of Chief Deputy Minority Whip and a seat on the Democratic Steering Committee (which allocates committee assignments to House Democrats).
In 2003 Schakowsky condemned the influence that "private power" had gained over the media. She joined Global Exchange founder Medea Benjamin at a "Take Back America" conference to propose tight government limits on the consolidation of broadcasters such as Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News Channel, and other enterprises.
In 2004 Schakowsky co-sponsored a bill to ease restrictions on U.S. trade with the Communist dictatorship in Cuba.
In March 2004, while Schakowsky was bidding for re-election to Congress, her husband, Robert Creamer (Executive Director of the Illinois Public Action Fund, or IPAF), was indicted in federal court on 16 counts of bank fraud. Creamer's bad-check-writing scheme and tax evasion reportedly caused several banks to experience shortfalls of some $2.3 million. Though Schakowsky was a member of the IPAF Board when the crimes occurred, she was ultimately absolved of any wrongdoing and claimed that her husband, too, was innocent.
But during the trial, it was learned that Creamer had drawn his own $100,000 IPAF salary from fraudulently obtained funds. In August 2005, Creamer pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five months in prison and 11 months of house arrest. Following the verdict, Schakowsky said she was proud of her husband, who had "for his entire adult life devoted himself to fighting for a better future for others -- he has been a constant crusader for social and economic justice in this country and beyond."
In 2007 Schakowsky was a co-sponsor of HR 333, a resolution proposed by Representative Dennis Kucinich, calling for articles of impeachment to be filed against Vice President Dick Cheney for allegedly fabricating intelligence reports in order to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Other co-sponsors of the resolution included Tammy Baldwin, William Lacy Clay, Jr., Keith Ellison, Sam Farr, Bob Filner, Raul Grijalva, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Barbara Lee, Jim McDermott, Maxine Waters, Diane Watson and Lynn Woolsey.
Nearly 60 percent of Schakowsky's Political Action Committee (PAC) contributions come from organized labor. Among her biggest individual donors are the Teamsters Union; public employee unions such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU); the American Association for Justice (formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America); and the AFL-CIO, whose President John Sweeney is a member of DSA.
The following is an overview of Schakowsky's policy positions and voting record on key pieces of legislation during her years in the House of Representatives:
Abortion and the Rights of the Unborn: In April 2000 and October 2003, Schakowsky voted against legislation to ban (except where the mother's safety might require it) the late-term abortion procedure commonly known as partial-birth abortion. In February 2004 she voted against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which proposed to make it an added criminal offense for someone to injure or kill a fetus while carrying out a crime against a pregnant woman. In April 2005 she voted against notifying the parents of minors who have obtained out-of-state abortions. In December 2006 she voted NO on the Abortion Pain Bill, which sought to ensure that women seeking an abortion are fully informed regarding the pain experienced by their unborn child. Schakowsky is rated 100% by NARAL, indicating an uncompromising pro-choice voting record.
Marriage: In September 2004 Schakowsky voted against a bill that would have prohibited same-sex marriage. In July 2006 she voted NO on a Constitutional Amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Education: In November 2001 Schakowsky voted NO on allowing public schools to permit voluntary prayer. Schakowsky has received a rating of 92% from the National Education Association (NEA), America's largest labor union.
Crime: In March 2001 Schakowsky co-sponsored a bill seeking to place a moratorium on the death penalty.
Illegal Immigration: In September 2006 Schakowsky voted against a bill authorizing the construction of 700 miles of double-layered fencing between the U.S. and Mexico. She is rated 0% by the U.S. Border Control (USBC), signifying that her voting record reflects an open-borders stance.
Fossil Fuels: In February and August 2001, Schakowsky voted to keep Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) closed to oil drilling.
Taxes: In March 2000 Schakowsky voted NO on $46 billion in tax cuts for small business. In July 2000 and again in April 2004, she voted against eliminating the "marriage penalty," and in April 2001 she voted NO on eliminating the "death tax." In October 2001 she voted NO on a $99 billion economic stimulus package. In April 2002 she voted against making President Bush's tax cuts permanent. In May 2004 she voted against making permanent an increase in the child tax credit. In September 2004 she voted NO on providing tax relief and simplification measures. In December 2005 she voted against retaining reduced taxes on capital gains and dividends.
Counter-Terrorism & Homeland Security: In 2007 Schakowsky voted against a bill permitting the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General "to authorize foreign intelligence acquisition concerning those reasonably believed to be outside of the U.S., provided that written certification is presented that the procedure does not constitute electronic surveillance under existing law, the surveillance is made with the assistance of a communications provider, and the significant purpose of the acquisition is to obtain foreign intelligence information."
Iraq War: In October 2002 Schakowsky voted against the joint Congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. In May 2007 she voted in favor of an amendment to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within 90 days.
Guns: In April 2003 and again in October 2005, Schakowsky voted NO on banning lawsuits holding gun manufacturers responsible for gun violence.
In 2008 Schakowsky made a $1,000 contribution to Barack Obama's presidential campaign. She also has made political donations to Bernie Sanders, Tom Udall, and EMILY'S List.
In 2009 Schakowsky told a group of supporters that a government-run health-insurance plan, which she favored, would put private insurers out of business (click here for video). She candidly stated that this was in fact the primary purpose of universal healthcare legislation:
"The goal of health care reform is not to protect the private health insurance industry. And I am so confident in the superiority of a public health care option ... I know that many of you here today are single-payer advocates and so am I ... This is not a principled fight. This is a fight about strategy for getting there, and I belive we will."
On October 8, 2013, Schakowsky was one of eight members of Congress (all Democrats) who were arrested when they sat in the middle of Independence Avenue and blocked rush-hour traffic during an immigration rally on Washington’s National Mall. Though the Mall was, at that time, legally closed due to a so-called “government shutdown” that had gone into effect a week earlier, the National Parks Service allowed the demonstration to take place because of First Amendment protections. Consisting of more than 15,000 participants, the rally was intended to persuade Congress to pass legislation allowing illegal immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship. Also arrested were U.S. Representatives Joseph Crowley, Keith Ellison, Al Green, Raul Grijalva, Luis Gutierrez, John Lewis, and Charles Rangel.