Former Democratic congressman and Northwestern alumnus Brad Schneider returned to his alma mater on Thursday evening for a talk in the McCormick Tribune Center about U.S. foreign policy, his experience in the House of Representatives and his future in politics.
The event, co-sponsored by Northwestern University College Democrats, Wildcats for Israel and Northwestern Hillel, drew a crowd of over 30. Schneider had not prepared a speech; instead, he invited attendees to ask him questions.
His remarks mainly focused on the United States’ role as a world power, drawing from his experience as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He touched on a slew of current conflicts, from tumult in the Middle East to the recent massacre in Baga, Nigeria.
Americans have become overwhelmed by the violence that’s seemingly happening everywhere, which has caused many people to tune out, he said.
He advocated for a better, smarter United States policy for several conflict-stricken regions, namely in Nigeria and Iran. Instead of framing intervention as war against terror, he said that the U.S. government needs to fight wars for freedom.
“The world is a better place when the United States is engaged, when we are leaning in,” he said.
He also addressed his experience as a House representative in the context of its strained relationship with the Obama administration. He reflected on frustrating interactions with the executive branch in which he and other congressmen were not briefed on important policy issues until the last minute. He said he was told that Sen. Bob Menendez, who had long advocated for reform of the U.S.’s relationship with Cuba, was never briefed about the U.S. restoring diplomatic relations with the country until after the fact.
He said that he wishes that the White House would be more communicative with Congress and put more effort into developing a cooperative relationship.
Schneider was defeated for reelection in 2014 by Rep. Bob Dold, a Republican. He evaded questions about his probability of running again in 2016. Although he loved his time as a congressman, he said that he also enjoys consulting for community-based organizations.
“I haven’t closed any doors, but I’m not making any decisions until the end of the year,” he said.
When offering advice to prospective politicians, he stressed the importance of staying involved in the communities that they want to represent.
“Stay passionate and engaged in the world around you,” he said. “I really do believe in the ‘think globally, act locally’ mantra.”
He voiced concern about the growing disillusionment regarding politics among younger demographics. Politicians need to start taking younger voters more seriously by being more honest with them and bringing more substance to their policies, he said.
He said he views the campus as a place that fosters long discussions and respectful debate, as well as strong work ethics.
“This place defined me more than anything else,” he said.
It wasn’t difficult to bring Schneider back to his alma mater, said Quentin Heilbroner, president of College Democrats. Along with Wildcats for Israel, the clubs had forged a connection with him by doing door-to-door canvassing and holding phone-a-thons for his previous campaigns.
“He was more than eager to come back and do whatever we wanted him to do,” Heilbroner said.
Junior Jonathan Kamel, president of Wildcats for Israel, reached out to Scheider’s team of representatives after he lost the 2014 election to Rep. Bob Dold. He said that his group was particularly interested in bringing him to campus given his Jewish heritage and strong support for the state of Israel in Congress. He also admired Schneider’s commitment to the people of his district.
“When he stressed that Northwestern had a really strong impact on him, it was important for me to hear,” Kamel said. “It shows that our school really does have a way of influencing people for the good.”