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At Reagan dinner, Rep. LaHood touts rule changes installed after dispute over speakership

Darin LaHood speaks at a podium
Colleen Reynolds
U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, a Republican who represents parts of Bloomington-Normal, was the keynote speaker at Eureka College's annual Reagan Birthday Dinner on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023.

U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood joked during Thursday's annual Ronald Reagan dinner at Eureka College that he was happy to back home in central Illinois “where I don’t have to talk about George Santos or be around George Santos anymore.”

That was the closest LaHood came to criticizing any of his GOP colleagues, perhaps following Ronald Reagan’s famous 11th Commandment, introduced while he was running for governor in California: ”Thou shall not speak ill of any other Republican.”

This was the first annual dinner the Ronald W. Reagan Society has hosted in three years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s held at the president’s alma mater, Eureka College, that also is home to a museum and peace garden in his name. A leadership program awards Reagan Fellows a four-year scholarship, global travel and mentorship.

LaHood said the sparring leading up to 15 votes before Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy was chosen to lead the Republican-controlled House is just a result of how democracy works. He said he is not worried about the far-right members of his conference who withheld their votes until they received several concessions.

“I think when you have a tight governing majority of 222, instead of 240, you're going to have disagreements. But I think if you look at the debate and the conversation and the dialogue, we had the rules that we changed. I think we're going to be better off for it," he said.

LaHood represents 21 counties, including parts of McLean County and Woodford County where Eureka College is located.

U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, right, with Eureka College Director of Campus Safety Loren Marion at Thursday's event.
Colleen Reynolds
U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, right, with Eureka College Director of Campus Safety Loren Marion at Thursday's event.

During his speech in which LaHood spoke mostly about President Reagan, he toutedrules changes put in place by McCarthy and Republicans, calling them a great step to helping the GOP be a check on the Biden administration. New rules require 72 hours notice before voting on a bill and another that would prevent the “weaponization” of government agencies, clearing the way for investigations into the Department of Justice and the FBI.

LaHood claimed another victory for Republicans, telling the audience that in its first vote on legislation, the new Republican-controlled House approved a bill that would rescind nearly $80 billion for the Internal Revenue Service.

“We repealed 87,000 new IRS agents, which I personally think was a pretty good thing to do,” LaHood declared to a room full of applause.

The 87,000 figure is for all employees, not only auditors, and the funding legislation was designed to use the money over 10 years, to shore up the agency that has been plagued by complaints of poor service and a lack of ability to crack down on tax cheats.

The GOP bill to block the appropriation will likely be defeated in the Senate, and President Biden has said he won’t sign it.

Debt ceiling and the budget

At a national prayer breakfast on Thursday, President Biden said that he and Speaker McCarthy are planning on treating each other with respect amid ongoing debt ceiling discussions and called on all Washington lawmakers to do the same. LaHood said the unity breakfast with leaders from both parties, along with Biden’s comments, were a good sign that compromise to avoid a default on the national debt is possible.

Democrats and the president want to raise the debt ceiling to avoid default that could devastate the global economy. Republicans want to tie that effort to budget cuts, but the president has said GOP leaders have not been forthcoming with their plan.

LaHood sits on the Republican Study Committee that has suggested raising the retirement age to 70 and the age for Medicare to 67. LaHood attempted to clarify his position during an interview with WGLT before the Reagan dinner.

“I've publicly stated that anybody that's on Social Security or on Medicare or within five years of doing that, that we shouldn't touch it. And that's my position. I'll stand by that. What I've said is this country is $32 trillion in debt, and we need to look at how we bring down spending in this country.” He added, “So when we look at Social Security or any government program, we always got to look at how we make it more efficient, effective and accountable.”

The Dunlap Republican also suggested the deficit could be reduced by diverting “billions and billions” of unspent COVID-19 money and looking at waste, fraud and abuse in government programs. He also would not rule out reducing the amount of military spending.

“I've voted against a number of defense budgets because I think they spend too much money. So you know, those are things to put aside.”

'China has a plan to replace us'

McCarthy also appointed LaHood to a new bipartisan House Select Committee on China. It was the only other reference to the activities from the 116th Congress. LaHood said China and its activities should be a daily focus.

“This is not going away,” he warned, referencing a variety of actions designed at destroying the U.S. politically and economically. “I tell people all the time China has a plan to replace us and they're working at it every single day. They're doing it militarily, technologically, economically and diplomatically.” He added, “If we don't wake up to the fact that China, again, is working in a malign fashion to hurt the United States, and overtake us, you know, we're going to be in real trouble.”

LaHood’s comments come after the latest revelation that the Pentagon is monitoring a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon in the sky over the continental United States.

Law enforcement reform

Before his speech, WGLT asked LaHood about the issue that stalled law enforcement reforms nearly three years ago after the death of George Floyd — qualified immunity for police officers. Debate about the need for reforms has resurfaced, following the violent Jan. 7 encounter between Tyre Nichols and the Memphis police officers who savagely beat the 29-year-old Black FedEx worker while screaming profanities at him. Nichols died several days later.

LaHood said his heart goes out to Nichols’ family and that the five officers involved should be prosecuted and held accountable. But he doesn’t think reforms should include doing away with the immunity that protects police officers from individual liability unless they violate a clearly established constitutional right.

“As somebody that spent 10 years as a state and federal prosecutor, the vast majority of police officers I've worked with here locally, and at the federal level, are law-abiding citizens. There are a few bad apples, of course. We saw that last weekend. But I'm not convinced that getting rid of qualified immunity is the right approach,” he said.

When pressed, LaHood said he doesn't think there are systemic issues in law enforcement across the country.

“That's my own experience from being in a courtroom for over 10 years working with lots in law enforcement; working with the FBI, working with local police here in my communities. Again, the vast majority of police officers are there for the right reason. They care deeply about their community. They're dedicated to law enforcement and safety of our community”

WGLT asked if the congressman had reached out to minority communities to talk with them about their experiences.

LaHood replied, “Well, listen, I worked in Cook County, I worked in Chicago as a narcotics prosecutor. So, I'm well aware. I worked in Las Vegas as a federal prosecutor. So I've worked in many different urban areas. I stand by my statement.”

Colleen has spent most of her adult life working the streets and beats of Bloomington-Normal for WJBC-AM where she won numerous reporting awards for hard news, feature writing, and breaking news coverage.