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A group called Organizing For Action-Illinois plans a Saturday demonstration in Federal Plaza that's not the usual protest held at Adams and Dearborn.
It's a thank you, the group says, to U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), one of only four Republicans to vote for background checks legislation that ultimately failed.

"The group intends to let the Senator know that his constituents support him in standing up to powerful special interests and that they appreciate his strong stance in favor of universal background checks," a statement from the group reads. "This event is just one of dozens occurring nationally, specifically targeting Senators who crossed partisan lines to do the right thing. State groups from all across the country are thanking or shaming their Senators on this day."

Mark Kirk sits down with Newtown families

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U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) met today with parents of children killed in the Newtown school shooting massacre this afternoon in Washington as the Senate is poised to vote on a series of gun bills.

"He believes it is essential to know the stories of victim's families and learn about the victims themselves," Trover said of Kirk.

Newtown parents have been meeting with a series of Senators over the last several weeks.

In another victim visit aimed at having an impact on the direction of gun legislation, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and husband Mark Kelly met with Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) a moderate Democrat with whom Kirk is close and who led the effort to strike a gun deal compromise.

Kirk has taken an aggressive approach on curbing gun violence, including helping craft legislation that would take aim at gun traffickers and voicing support for background check expansion. He has also long supported an assault weapon ban.

"Sen. Kirk has been a major proponent of fighting dangerous drug gangs who are terrorizing our neighborhoods - and fighting for universal background checks and tougher penalties for straw purchasing is a part of that fight. Beyond his work to fight these gangs, he was greatly troubled by the Newtown tragedy," Trover said. "He looks forward to meeting with the families affected by this horrible event and hearing ways he can help to curb violence in our country."

Last month, Kirk told the Sun-Times he named a section of new legislation after Chicago victim Hadiya Pendleton in the hope it would give the measure, which aimed to curb trafficking, a greater chance of passage.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) met with Newtown families last Thursday morning. The families have been lobbying on Capitol Hill in advance of the Senate votes.

A series of votes are expected at 4 p.m. ET today.


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Sen. Mark Kirk will talk with Newtown families Wednesday. | AP file

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is to meet with parents of children killed in the Newtown school shooting massacre this afternoon in Washington as the Senate is poised to vote on a series of gun bills, his spokesman Lance Trover confirmed.

"He believes it is essential to know the stories of victim's families and learn about the victims themselves," Trover said of Kirk.

Newtown parents have been meeting with a series of Senators over the last several weeks.

In another victim visit aimed at having an impact on the direction of gun legislation, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and husband Mark Kelly met with Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) a moderate Democrat with whom Kirk is close and who led the effort to strike a gun deal compromise.

Kirk has taken an aggressive approach on curbing gun violence, including helping craft legislation that would take aim at gun traffickers and voicing support for background check expansion. He has also long supported an assault weapon ban.

"Sen. Kirk has been a major proponent of fighting dangerous drug gangs who are terrorizing our neighborhoods - and fighting for universal background checks and tougher penalties for straw purchasing is a part of that fight. Beyond his work to fight these gangs, he was greatly troubled by the Newtown tragedy," Trover said. "He looks forward to meeting with the families affected by this horrible event and hearing ways he can help to curb violence in our country."

Last month, Kirk told the Sun-Times he named a section of new legislation after Chicago victim Hadiya Pendleton in the hope it would give the measure, which aimed to curb trafficking, a greater chance of passage.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) met with Newtown families last Thursday morning. The families have been lobbying on Capitol Hill in advance of the Senate votes.

A series of votes are expected at 4 p.m. ET today.


Audio courtesy of Illinois Radio Network

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk said on Tuesday that the movie "Lincoln" helped persuade him to support gay marriage but he still believes it should remain a state issue.

In an interview with Illinois Radio Network, the Republican who made national headlines today by becoming the second U.S. Senate Republican to change his stance and support same sex marriage, explained that he saw parallels between freedoms that Abraham Lincoln fought for and gay rights issues.

"I must say I was pretty influenced by the latest movie by Steven Spielberg about Abraham Lincoln. You just think as a Republican leader, my job is to make sure that each generation is more free and has more dignity as an individual which is a unique gift of the United states to the world. The thought of treating a whole bunch of people just because of who they love differently is in my view against that Lincoln tradition, which was brought so well to life by the movie," Kirk said, according to audio of the interview IRN provided to the Sun-Times.

"I thought the country was ready for it," Kirk said. "The gay community is larger than it ever has been before. And it's not in the 1950s closet, so most of of us have gay acquaintances at work or at church and we know them. And the thought of discriminating against our own friends and coworkers is an anathema to me."

As for whether same sex marriage could become legal in Illinois, Kirk gave a yes.
"I think from what I've seen in my talks with Chris Radogno, it would appear that it's coming soon," he said in the radio interview. "I do prefer states doing this. I would hope we would restrain our appetite for power in Washington and not take over marriage law for the whole country."

Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk on Tuesday announced via his website that he would support same-sex marriage - the second Senate Republican to do so. From Kirk's statement:

When I climbed the Capitol steps in January, I promised myself that I would return to the Senate with an open mind and greater respect for others.

Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage. Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back-- government has no place in the middle.


Kirk's endorsement comes at a critical time in both the national debate as well as in Illinois. While the Illinois Senate passed a measure supporting same sex marriage on Valentine's Day, the Illinois House went on spring break before calling it for a vote.

Last week, sources told the Sun-Times that several state House Republicans were poised to support the measure, hoping in part, not to make the issue define the state Republican party. A blow-up over the issue happened earlier this year when state Sen. Jim Oberweis attempted to oust the state party chairman, Pat Brady, since he backed gay marriage.

Kirk, a moderate Republican, came to Brady's defense, as did other GOP stalwarts.

In his Senate campaign against Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, however, Kirk opposed gay marriage. At a debate Oct. 19, 2010, Kirk said: "I -- I oppose gay marriage, and -- I support civil unions. But I also don't think we should have a federal takeover of all marriage law in the United States. I think the federal government is already trying to take over too much." Full transcript of the Senate debate.

Kirk previously voted to end the policy barring gays from openly serving in the military, known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." He's a lead co-sponsor of a bill to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and has opposed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Kirk is Illinois' ranking Republican lawmaker.

Natasha Korecki, AP contributing

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Illinois U.S. Senator Mark Kirk is helped up the US Capitol steps by Vice President Joe Biden (2nd from right) and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (left), U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is at far right, as many other Senators line the Capital steps on Thursday morning January 3, 2013. | Jon Sall~Sun-Times

When Illinois' junior Sen. Mark Kirk returned to the Senate last month, it was a triumph for friend and foe alike.

On both sides of the aisle, Kirk was applauded after making his climb back up the Capitol steps to return to office - ne easy task, as Lynn Sweet reported on Jan. 4.

Now Sen. Kirk is talking about just how difficult that return was. In an op/ed column he wrote for the Washington Post, Kirk talks about the struggle it's been since his stroke - the fear he felt the day it hit, the fight to get back and how he's changed as a person and a senator as a result of being stricken.

Kirk, who writes that he was always a "glass half empty guy," before his stroke says he's become much more positive and optimistic as a result of surviving not only the stroke, but the rehabilitation:

I'm different from what I was. My left leg and left arm might never work like they once did, but my mind is sharp. I'm capable of doing the work entrusted to me by the people of Illinois, but I am forever changed.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) released a video on Tuesday highlighting his return to the Senate last Thursday, after his nearly year-long absence following his stroke.

Step by Step. Mark Kirk's climb

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U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk is back in Washington D.C. after suffering a stroke a year ago. On Thursday, he plans to walk up the Capitol steps. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin will be among those who will climb with him.
After his step climb, Kirk's medical team will talk to the media.
Here's the details:


WHO: Elliot Roth, MD -- Medical Director of RIC's Ability Lab Recovery Unit;
George Hornby, PhD -- RIC Research Scientist, lead researcher on the gait trial in which Senator Kirk participated;
Michael Klonowski - Physical Therapist, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago;
Richard Fessler, MD -- Neurological Surgery, Northwestern Memorial Hospital

WHEN:
Thursday, January 3rd 2013
12:30 P.M. EST or immediately following stair climb

WHERE:
United States Capitol
Room SC-4

WHAT:
Senator Mark Kirk suffered a stroke in January 2012. Following his participation in an experimental clinical trial, his comeback one year later to the United States Senate is proving an inspiration to stroke and brain injury patients nationally and internationally.

Physicians and researchers from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and Northwestern Memorial Hospital who assisted with U.S. Senator Mark Kirk's recovery will be available to discuss the Senator's recovery and take questions following his climb up the Capitol steps.

Sen. Mark Kirk, who suffered a stroke eight months ago, has released a new YouTube video, this one tackling the recent S&P downgrade of Illinois debt.

Kirk, who turned 53 Sunday, speaks for about 30 seconds of the 90 second video. The senator's aides have declined to say when he will return to Washington.