Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois is an Iraq War veteran from a long line of veterans. Her family has served in the military dating back to the American Revolution.
It’s a well-known part of Duckworth’s past — she lost both her legs as a helicopter pilot in combat and is the first disabled woman to serve in the US House of Representatives. Now, she’s running for Senate against incumbent Republican Mark Kirk.
On Thursday, at a campaign debate, she said her military history was the reason she wants to be Illinois’s senator: "I've bled for this nation. But I still want to be there in the Senate when the drums of war sound. … I want to be there to say this is what it costs. … Families like mine are the ones that bleed first."
Kirk had 30 seconds to respond — he went with a racially charged statement questioning not only Duckworth’s military history but seemingly her patriotism as well: "I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington," Kirk said. (Duckworth was born in Thailand to an American father and a mother of Thai and Chinese descent, and is also the first Asian-American woman to serve Illinois in the House.)
Here is the exchange:
Tammy Duckworth is a vet who lost both legs in Iraq. Her family has served since the Revolutionary War. And yet... pic.twitter.com/DHd3kWrUsN— Anthony Breznican (@Breznican) October 28, 2016
Onstage, Kirk’s retort was received with awkward silence; Duckworth did not respond during the debate, and the moderator moved quickly to the next question. But the racially charged sentiment of the comment was not lost on viewers — or on Duckworth.
After the debate, Duckworth acknowledged Kirk’s comment on Twitter simply with a family photograph — both she and her father in uniform.
My mom is an immigrant and my dad and his family have served this nation in uniform since the Revolution #ILSEN pic.twitter.com/ehEBHswFMs— Tammy Duckworth (@TammyforIL) October 28, 2016
The comment sparked outrage from both sides of the aisle.
"Sen. Kirk has been caught lying about his military record over 10 times, but he was quick to launch false attacks questioning Congresswoman Duckworth's family's long history of serving our country. A struggling political campaign is no excuse for baseless and despicable attacks, and Sen. Kirk owes Congresswoman Duckworth and her family an apology," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Lara Sisselman told NBC, referring to Kirk’s exaggeration that he is a military veteran — he was in the Navy Reserves but not deployed.
Even Kellyanne Conway — campaign manager for Donald Trump, who himself has made openly anti-immigrant and racist statements and mocked war veterans like Sen. John McCain — chided Kirk (who unendorsed Trump in June) for the comment.
The same Mark Kirk that unendorsed his party's presidential nominee and called him out in paid ads? Gotcha. Good luck. https://t.co/IV7miL317s— Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls) October 28, 2016
It’s unclear if she caught the irony.