Dick Durbin

For other people with the same name, see Richard Durbin.
Dick Durbin
Senate Minority Whip
Assumed office
January 3, 2015
Leader Harry Reid
Chuck Schumer (Elect)
Preceded by John Cornyn
In office
January 3, 2005  January 3, 2007
Leader Harry Reid
Preceded by Harry Reid
Succeeded by Trent Lott
United States Senator
from Illinois
Assumed office
January 3, 1997
Serving with Mark Kirk
Preceded by Paul Simon
Senate Majority Whip
In office
January 3, 2007  January 3, 2015
Leader Harry Reid
Preceded by Mitch McConnell
Succeeded by John Cornyn
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 20th district
In office
January 3, 1983  January 3, 1997
Preceded by Paul Findley
Succeeded by John Shimkus
Personal details
Born Richard Joseph Durbin
(1944-11-21) November 21, 1944
East St. Louis, Illinois, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Loretta Schaefer
Children Christine
Alma mater Georgetown University (BS, JD)
Website Senate website

Richard Joseph "Dick" Durbin (born November 21, 1944) is the senior United States Senator from Illinois, in office since 1997. He has been the Assistant Minority Leader (whip), the second highest position in the Democratic Party leadership in the Senate, since 2015.

Durbin was born in East St. Louis, Illinois. He graduated from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and Georgetown University Law Center. Working in state legal counsel throughout the 1970s, he made an unsuccessful run for Lieutenant Governor of Illinois in 1978. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982, representing the Springfield-based 20th congressional district. In 1996, he won election to the U.S. Senate by an unexpected 15-point margin. He has served as Senate Democratic Whip since 2005, and for a period of eight years (2007–2015) served as the Senate Majority Whip. He is currently dean of the Illinois congressional delegation, as he has served in Congress since 1983 as a US Representative from Illinois 20th Congressional District and from 1997, as a US Senator from Illinois.

Senator Durbin now serves as the Senate Minority Whip following the 2014 midterm election, where the Republicans gained a majority in the U.S. Senate. Durbin won reelection in the 2014 midterm election, beating his Republican opponent, Jim Oberweis, by a margin of 53.55% to 42.69%.

Early life, education and career

Durbin was born in East St. Louis, Illinois, to an Irish-American father, William Durbin, and a Lithuanian-born mother, Anna (née Kutkin; Lithuanian: Ona Kutkaitė).[1] He graduated from Assumption High School in East St. Louis in 1962. During his high school years he worked at a meatpacking plant. He earned a B.S. from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in 1966. He was an intern in the office of Senator Paul Douglas of Illinois during his senior year in college. Durbin earned his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in 1969 and was admitted to the Illinois bar later that year.

After graduating from law school, Durbin started a law practice in Springfield. He was legal counsel to Lieutenant Governor Paul Simon from 1969 to 1972, and then legal counsel to the Illinois State Senate Judiciary Committee from 1972 to 1982. Durbin was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for a seat in the Illinois State Senate in 1976.[2] He ran for Lieutenant Governor in 1978 as the running mate of State Superintendent of Schools Michael Bakalis. They were defeated by Republican incumbents Jim Thompson and Dave O'Neal. Durbin then worked as an adjunct professor at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine for five years while maintaining his law practice.

U.S. House of Representatives

In 1982, Durbin won the Democratic nomination for the now-eliminated 20th congressional district, which included most of Springfield. He scored a huge upset, defeating 22-year incumbent Paul Findley. As part of the decennial redistricting process, Findley's district had been redrawn to include more Democrats. Durbin's campaign emphasized unemployment and financial difficulties facing farmers, and told voters that electing him would send "a message to Washington and to President Reagan that our economic policies are not working." Durbin benefited from donations by pro-Israel groups from around the United States, in particular, concentrated support from AIPAC supporters,[3] that were opposed to Findley's advocacy on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization[4] Findley raised more money than Durbin, $582,793 to $417,635, in the year prior to the election. Durbin was reelected six times, rarely facing serious opposition, and winning more than 55% of the vote in each election except 1994.[5][6][7]

U.S. Senate

Durbin speaks during the final night of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, introducing his party's nominee, fellow Illinoisan Barack Obama

In 1996, Durbin defeated Pat Quinn to become the Democratic Party's nominee to replace the retiring Democratic incumbent, Senator Paul Simon, a long-time friend. He faced Republican State Representative Al Salvi in the November general election. Although the election had been expected to be competitive, Durbin won by a surprising 15-point margin, undoubtedly helped by Bill Clinton's 18-point win in Illinois that year. He has since been re-elected in 2002, 2008 and 2014, each time by at least 10%.


Caucus memberships


Durbin eating lunch with President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

In November 1998, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle appointed Durbin as his Assistant Democratic Whip. Following the 2004 election, Durbin became the Democratic Whip in the 109th Congress. He became the first senator from Illinois to serve as a Senate Whip since Everett Dirksen did so in the late 1950s, and the fifth to serve in Senate Leadership.[10] Durbin served as Assistant Minority Leader from 2005 until 2007, when the Democrats became the Majority Party in the Senate. He then assumed the role of Assistant Majority Leader, or Majority Whip.

In addition to his caucus duties, Durbin is Chairman the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.[11]

In 2000, Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore reportedly considered asking Durbin to be his running mate and candidate for Vice President of the United States.[12] Gore ultimately selected Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman.[13]

When Majority Leader Harry Reid faced a difficult reelection fight in 2010, some pundits predicted a possibly heated fight to succeed him between his assistant Durbin and Senator Chuck Schumer, who is well known for his fundraising prowess.[14] Reid's reelection victory, however, rendered such speculation moot.

Political positions

Durbin is one of the most liberal members of Congress. Mother Jones has called him a "top Senate liberal."[15] His voting record is very similar to the Democratic caucus position, consistent with his leadership position as Whip, which has the duty of persuading senators to follow the party line in their votes. As a trial lawyer, Durbin has excellent debating abilities, so much so that majority leader Harry Reid called him "the best debater" in the U.S. senate.


As a congressman, Durbin voted consistently to uphold existing restrictions on abortion or impose new limitations, including supporting a Constitutional amendment that would have nullified Roe v. Wade.[16] He reversed his position in 1989 and has since voted to maintain access to abortion, including support for Medicaid funding of it, and opposition to any limitation that he considers a practical or potential encroachment upon Roe.[17] Durbin has maintained that this reversal came about as a result of personal reflection and his growing awareness of potentially harmful implications of his previous policy with respect to women facing dangerous pregnancies.[18] While visiting a home for abused children in Quincy, Illinois, the director, a friend, asked him to speak with two girls who were about to turn 18 and be turned out of state care. Talking with the girls, victims of gang rape and incest, made him reconsider his position on the subject. He says, "I still oppose abortion and would try my best to convince any woman in my family to carry the baby to term. But I believe that ultimately the decision must be made by the woman, her doctor, her family, and her conscience."[19]


On March 2, 2005, then Senator Jon Corzine presented the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act (S. 495) to the Senate. Durbin was one of 40 senators who co-sponsored the bill. The Darfur Accountability Act is noted as the premier legislative attempt to instill peace in Darfur. The bill asks that all people involved in or deemed in some way responsible for the genocide in Darfur be denied visas and entrance to the U.S.

In 2006, Durbin co-sponsored the Durbin-Leahy Amendment to the Supplemental Appropriations bill for emergency funding to instill peace in Darfur. In 2006, he also co-sponsored the Lieberman Resolution, and the Clinton Amendment.

On June 7, 2007, Durbin introduced the Sudan Disclosure Enforcement Act, "Aimed at enhancing the U.S. Government's ability to impose penalties on violators of U.S. sanctions against Sudan." The bill called for the United Nations Security Council to vote on sanctions against the Sudanese Government for the genocide in Darfur.

Durbin has voted in favor of all Darfur-related legislation. In addition to the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, he also supported the Civilian Protection No-Fly Zone Act, the Hybrid Force Resolution, and the Sudan Divestment Authorization Act.


In March 2007, Durbin introduced the African Health Capacity Investment Act of 2007 to the Senate. The bill was designed so that over a three-year period, the U.S. would supply over $600 million to help create safer medical facilities and working conditions, and the recruitment and training of doctors from all over the continent.

In December 2007, Durbin and two other senators co-sponsored Senator John Kerry's Nondiscrimination in Travel and Immigration Act. Also, in March 2007, Durbin joined thirty-two other senators to co-sponsor the Early Treatment for HIV Act of 2007.

Iraq War

On September 9, 2002, Durbin was the first of four Democratic senators (the others being Sens. Bob Graham, Feinstein, and Levin) on the Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), responding to the Bush administration's request for a joint resolution authorizing a preemptive war on Iraq without having prepared a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), to ask George Tenet, the Director of Central Intelligence, to prepare a NIE on the status of Iraq's Weapon of mass destruction programs.[20] Durbin was one of the few senators who read the resulting prepared October 1, 2002 NIE, Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction.[21]

On September 29, 2002, Durbin held a news conference in Chicago to announce that "absent dramatic changes" in the resolution, he would vote against the resolution authorizing war on Iraq.[22] On October 2, 2002, at the first high-profile Chicago anti-Iraq War rally in Federal Plaza, Durbin repeated his promise to oppose the resolution in a letter read during the rally.[23]

On October 10, 2002, the U.S. Senate failed to pass Durbin's amendment to the resolution to strike "the continuing threat posed by Iraq" and insert "an imminent threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction", by a vote of 30 to 70, with the majority of Democratic senators voting for the amendment, but with 21 Democratic senators joining all 49 Republican senators voting against it.[24] On October 11, 2002, Durbin was one of 23 senators to vote against the joint resolution authorizing the Iraq War.[25]

On April 25, 2007, Durbin said that as an intelligence committee member he knew in 2002 from classified information that the American people were being misled by the Bush Administration into a war on Iraq, but he could not reveal this because, as an intelligence committee member, he was sworn to secrecy.[26] This revelation prompted an online attack ad against Durbin by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.[27]

Fair Sentencing Act

Durbin authored the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, legislation that has corrected some of the imbalance in cocaine sentencing.[28]


He is the chief proponent for The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (the "DREAM Act"), a piece of proposed federal legislation. This bill would provide certain students who entered or were brought to the country illegally with the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency if they arrived in the US as children, graduated from a US high school, have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment, submit biometric data, pass a criminal background check, and complete two years toward a four-year degree from an accredited university or complete at least two years in the military within a five-year period. Durbin's leadership on this issue was recognized in 2013 when the Immigrant Legal Resource Center presented him with inaugural Nancy Pelosi Award for Immigration & Civil Rights Policy.[29]

Tobacco regulation

In 1987, Durbin introduced major tobacco regulation legislation in the House to ban cigarette smoking on airline flights of two hours or less. He was joined by Rep. C.W. Bill Young, a Republican from Florida, in saying that the rights of smokers to smoke end where their smoking affects the health and safety of others, such as on airplanes. The bill went on to pass as part of the 1988 transportation spending bill. In 1989, Congress banned cigarette smoking on all domestic airline flights.[30]

In March 1994, Durbin proposed an amendment to the Improving America's Schools Act that required schools that receive Federal drug prevention money to teach elementary and secondary students about the dangers of tobacco in addition to those of drugs and alcohol. The amendment also required that schools warn students against tobacco and teach them how to resist peer pressure to smoke.[31]

In February 2008, Durbin called on Congress to support a measure that would give the Food and Drug Administration the power to oversee the tobacco industry. This measure would require companies to disclose the contents of tobacco products, restrict advertising and promotions, and mandate the removal of harmful ingredients in tobacco products. The measure would also prohibit tobacco companies from using terms such as "low risk," "light," and "mild" on packaging.

Durbin attributes his stance against tobacco smoking to his father, who smoked two packs of Camel cigarettes a day and died of lung cancer.

Freedom of expression

In 2007, speaking as Senate Majority Whip, Durbin went on record as stating that "It’s time to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine."[32]

In 2010, Durbin cosponsored and passed from committee the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, a bill that aims to combat media piracy by blacklisting websites though many opposed to the bill argue that it violates First Amendment rights and promotes censorship.[33][34] The announcement of the bill was followed by a wave of protest from digital rights activists, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation calling it censorship and stating that action may be taken against all users of sites in which only some users are uploading infringing material.[35]

As of January 19, 2011, Durbin was a sponsor of the Stop Online Piracy Act.

Financial crisis of 2007–2010

Durbin meeting with Raj Date, then Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to discuss helping consumers compare bank fees

On April 27, 2009, in an interview with WJJG talk radio host Ray Hanania, Durbin accused banks of creating the financial crisis of 2007–2010. Durbin expressed a belief that many of the banks responsible for creating the crisis "own the place," referring to the power wielded by the banking lobby on Capitol Hill.[36]

On September 18, 2008, Durbin attended a closed meeting with congressional leaders, then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, and was urged to craft legislation to help financially troubled banks. That same day (trade effective the next day), Durbin sold mutual-fund shares worth $42,696, and reinvested it all with Warren Buffett.[37]

On February 26, 2009, Durbin introduced the Protecting Consumers from Unreasonable Credit Rates Act of 2009, calling for a maximum annual interest rate cap of 36%, including all interest and fees.[38] This bill was intended to put an end to predatory lending activities.

Rod Blagojevich

Shortly after Governor Rod Blagojevich's arrest on federal corruption charges on December 9, 2008, Durbin called for the Illinois legislature to quickly pass legislation for a special election to fill then President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.[39] He stated that no United States Senate appointment of Blagojevich's could produce a credible replacement under the circumstances.[40]

Durbin and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid led all 50 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus in writing Illinois Governor Blagojevich to urge him to resign and not name a successor to Obama following Blagojevich's arrest.[41]


In January 2005, Durbin changed his longstanding position on sugar tariffs and price supports. After several years of voting to keep sugar quotas and price supports, Durbin now favors abolishing the program. "The sugar program depended on congressmen like me from states that grew corn," Durbin said, referring to the fact that, though they were formerly a single entity, the sugar market and the corn syrup market are now largely separate.[42]

In May 2006, Durbin campaigned to maintain a $0.54 per gallon tariff on imported ethanol. Durbin justified the tariff by joining Barack Obama in stating that "ethanol imports are neither necessary nor a practical response to current gasoline prices," arguing instead that domestic ethanol production is sufficient and expanding.[43] The American Coalition for Ethanol gave him a rating of 100%.

American Airlines praised him for arguing for the need to lower rising oil prices.[44]


Among Durbin's legislative causes are environmental protection, particularly the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. League of Conservation Voters gives him a rating of 89%. Sierra Club gives him a 90% rating.

Other positions

Durbin meets with Elena Kagan

Durbin has also been a major proponent of expanded Amtrak funding and support. In October 2007, he opposed a bill in the Illinois General Assembly that would allow three casinos to be built, saying, "I really, really think we ought to stop and catch our breath and say, 'Is this the future of Illinois? That every time we want to do something we'll just build more casinos?'"[45]

Durbin reintroduced the Fair Elections Now Act during the 112th Congress. The bill would provide public funds to candidates who do not take political donations larger than $100 from any donor.[46]

On January 28, 2013, Durbin was a member of a bi-partisan group of eight Senators which announced principles for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR).[47]

In April 2013, Durbin chaired a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights concerning the moral, legal and constitutional issues surrounding targeted killings and the use of drones. Durbin stated, "Many in the national security community are concerned that we may undermine our counter-terrorism efforts if we do not carefully measure the benefits and costs of targeted killing."[48]

In June 2015, Durbin sent letter to prime-minister of Ukraine Arseniy Yatsinuk letter about fully supporting of Yatsinuk's efforts of governing.


Guantanamo interrogation criticism

Durbin received media attention on June 14, 2005, when in the U.S. Senate chambers he compared interrogation techniques used at Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay, as reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to those utilized by such regimes as Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and the Khmer Rouge:

When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here  I almost hesitate to put them in the record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:
On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18–24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold.... On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.

If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime  Pol Pot or others  that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.[49]

Durbin's comments drew widespread criticism that comparing U.S. actions to such regimes insulted the United States and victims of genocide. Radio host Rush Limbaugh and White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove accused Durbin of treason,[50] while former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called on the Senate to censure Durbin.[51] Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, whose son Patrick was serving in U.S. Army, also called on Durbin to apologize for his remarks, saying that he thought it was a "disgrace to say that any man or woman in the military would act like that."[52] John Wertheim, Democratic state party chairman of New Mexico, and Jim Pederson, Arizona Democratic party chairman, also criticized Durbin's remarks.[53] The leader of the Veterans of Foreign Wars also demanded an apology,[54] as did the Anti-Defamation League[52]

Durbin initially did not apologize, but on June 21, 2005, he went before the Senate, saying, "More than most people, a senator lives by his words ... occasionally words fail us, occasionally we will fail words."[55]

Andrew Sullivan, former editor of The New Republic, praised Durbin for raising serious moral issues about U.S. policy.[56] Other commentators, including liberal commentator Markos Moulitsas Zúniga of Daily Kos, condemned Durbin for apologizing to his critics, arguing Durbin made a mistake in making himself, rather than detention and torture concerns at Guantanamo Bay, the focus of media coverage.[57][58]

Attempts to remove PAC radio advertisements

In July 2014, Americas PAC, a Political Action Committee designed to elect conservative Republicans, released a radio advertisement attacking Durbin on his staff salaries.[59] This was based upon a Washington Times article that stated Durbin's female staff members made $11,000 less annually than his male staffers.[60] In response, lawyers representing Durbin submitted a letter claiming the information in the ad was false and that the radio stations would be liable for airing the ad, with the possibility of losing their FCC license.[61] The radio station stated the sources provided to back up the information provided by Americas PAC were checked and proved to be in line and that they would keep the radio advertisement on air.[62]

Electoral history

Illinois's 20th congressional district: Results 1982–1994[63]
Year Democratic Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct
1982 Richard J. Durbin 100,758 50.4% Paul Findley (inc.) 99,348 49.6%
1984 Richard J. Durbin (inc.) 145,092 61.3% Richard Austin 91,728 38.7%
1986 Richard J. Durbin (inc.) 126,556 68.1% Kevin McCarthey 59,291 31.9%
1988 Richard J. Durbin (inc.) 153,341 68.9% Paul Jurgens 69,303 31.1%
1990 Richard J. Durbin (inc.) 130,114 66.2% Paul Jurgens 66,433 33.8%
1992 Richard J. Durbin (inc.) 154,869 56.5% John M. Shimkus 119,219 43.5%
1994 Richard J. Durbin (inc.) 108,034 54.8% Bill Owens 88,964 45.2%
United States Senator (Class II): Results 1996–2014[63]
Year Democratic Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct Third Party Votes Pct Third Party Votes Pct Third Party Votes Pct
1996 Richard J. Durbin 2,384,028 56% Al Salvi 1,728,824 41%
2002 Richard J. Durbin 2,103,766 60% Jim Durkin 1,325,703 38% Steven Burgauer (Libertarian) 57,382 1.6%
2008 Richard J. Durbin 3,516,846 68% Steve Sauerberg[64] 1,479,984 29% Kathy Cummings (Green) 119,135 2.2% Larry Stafford (Libertarian) 50,224 0.9% Chad Koppie (Constitution) 24,059 0.5%
2014 Richard J. Durbin 1,929,637 53.5% Jim Oberweis 1,538,522 42.7% Sharon Hansen (Libertarian) 135,316 3.8%

Personal life

Durbin and his wife Loretta have had three children, Christine, Jennifer and Paul. After several weeks in the hospital with complications due to a congenital heart condition, Christine died on November 1, 2008.[65] Durbin's wife Loretta was a lobbyist, and it was reported by the Chicago Tribune in 2014 that some of her "clients have received federal funding promoted by [Durbin]".[66] The Durbins' maintain that they try to avoid conflicts of interest, however.[66]

Although he considers himself a Roman Catholic, he is not currently permitted to receive Holy Communion within the Church.[67]

Film and television appearances

Year Title Role Notes
2010 Pricele$$ Himself Documentary
2015 The Gettysburg Address (film) Himself Documentary


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Further reading

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Paul Findley
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 20th congressional district

Succeeded by
John Shimkus
Party political offices
Preceded by
Paul Simon
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Illinois
(Class 2)

1996, 2002, 2008, 2014
Most recent
Preceded by
Harry Reid
Senate Democratic Whip
United States Senate
Preceded by
Paul Simon
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Illinois
Served alongside: Carol Moseley Braun, Peter Fitzgerald, Barack Obama, Roland Burris, Mark Kirk, Tammy Duckworth (elect)
Preceded by
Harry Reid
Senate Minority Whip
Succeeded by
Trent Lott
Preceded by
Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Whip
Succeeded by
John Cornyn
Preceded by
John Cornyn
Senate Minority Whip
United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Pat Roberts
United States Senators by seniority
Succeeded by
Jack Reed
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