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Kirk holds first public appearance since stroke

In his first public appearance since suffering from a stroke last year, Illinois U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R) attested to the progress he has made through rehabilitation, and chimed in on a number of political issues that have been simmering in Washington and Chicago.

The junior Senator sat in a wheelchair as he spoke with media outlets at the LEARN Public Charter School near North Chicago in Lake County on Friday. Next to him were Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D) and Illinois Congressman Brad Schneider (D-10th).

“My standard walk for rehab was from my house to the Fort Sheridan (water) tower, which is about a block, and it always took 18 minutes,” Kirk said on Friday, “and yesterday, it took eight (minutes). So it’s much, much faster.” The stroke impaired movements particularly on the left side of Kirk’s body, and kept him off Capitol Hill for a year.

“Part of my mission is to tell everybody in Illinois, ‘If you have a mom or a dad who goes through a stroke, that if they get depressed one day to call me and I’ll get them up and turn them around,’” he said.

Kirk also chimed in on the immigration overhaul that Durbin and others in the so-called “Gang of Eight” senators have introduced in Washington. He said he has spoken to one of the Republican leaders on that bill, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) about introducing an amendment to award citizenship to military veterans who have earned Combat Infantry or Combat Action badges.

“My feeling is if you have fought with us, you are one of us,” said Kirk. “That is something that I’ll seek to add to the bill.”

He also said that he is withholding judgment on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Chicago business executive Penny Pritzker to the Secretary of Commerce cabinet position until he has had a chance to speak with her. Kirk said he wants to hear about Pritzker’s “pro-business” agenda.

Odette Yousef is WBEZ’s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her @oyousef.

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