Schakowsky: Helen Thomas ‘is awesome’

Normally it’s White House correspondent Helen Thomas who asks all the questions. But the seasoned reporter traded places on Friday with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) at the lawmaker’s annual Ultimate Women’s Power Lunch in Chicago, where Thomas was the guest of honor.

Schakowsky, who chairs the Congressional Women’s Caucus, interviewed Thomas before a crowd of more than 1,500 supporters. The lawmaker told ITK that the correspondent, who turns 90 later this year, “outlasted” her all day. Luckily, Thomas shared her secret.

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“I asked her how she does it, what keeps her going every day,” Schakowsky said, “and she had the best answer: She told me, ‘Being angry keeps me strong.’ ”

The annual fundraiser was a long day for both women. “Helen showed up at about 10,” Schakowsky said, “and pre-signed copies of her book all morning. Then, when it came time for the interview program, I figured she’d want to sit down. But oh, no, she wanted to do the interview standing up.”

Thomas’s fifth book, Listen Up Mr. President: Everything You Always Wanted Your President to Know and Do, was released last fall.

Schakowsky recounted a couple of Thomas’ memorable responses to her questions: “I asked her about whether she’d ever felt intimidated by a president, and she answered with a firm no. She told me, ‘They work for us, and it’s their job to answer my questions, because I pay their salaries.’ ”

As for how Thomas felt about breaking journalism’s glass ceiling, Schakowsky recalled, “She said to me, ‘My parents were from Lebanon and illiterate in English, so no one ever told me it was a man’s world.’ ”

Schakowsky left the lunch at about 3:15 p.m., and she said, “Helen was still there, signing books, and I just thought, ‘Wow.’” Schakowsky gushed, “She’s so awesome!”