SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is under fire for a remark he made about his Democratic challenger, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, during a debate on Oct. 27.
Duckworth, who has represented Illinois’ 8th Congressional District since 2013, is an Iraq War veteran who lost both legs when the helicopter she was piloting was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2004. She stated during the debate at the University of Illinois-Springfield:
“My family has served this nation in uniform going back to the Revolution. I am a daughter of the American Revolution. I’ve bled for this nation. But I still want to be there in the Senate when the drums of war sound. Because people are quick to sound the drums of war, and I want to be there to say this is what it costs, this is what you’re asking us to do. … Families like mine are the ones that bleed first.”
Kirk retorted, “I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.”
Duckworth did not respond on stage but later said via Twitter, “My mom is an immigrant and my dad and his family have served this nation in uniform since the Revolution.”
The tweet included a photo of Duckworth, who was born in Bangkok, with her late father, Franklin, a World War II veteran, and her mother, Lamai, a Thai immigrant of Chinese ancestry.
ASPIRE PAC Chair Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) said in a statement, “Sen. Kirk’s anti-immigrant rhetoric against Tammy Duckworth’s heritage is inexcusable. Tammy is an American war hero who has served her country on the combat field, in the executive branch, and in Congress. I am appalled at his comments.
“This election cycle has set a new ‘norm’ where attacks and racial slurs against immigrants and minority communities from those seeking elected office is fair game. Voters need to take a stand against racist behavior and ensure that we elect the right leaders, leaders who rise above prejudice and can move our country forward.”
ASPIRE (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Rising and Empowering) is a federal political action committee focused on supporting candidates of AAPI descent and those that support and promote the issues of the AAPI community.
NBC News quoted Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Lara Sisselman as saying that Kirk’s remark was “offensive, wrong and racist” and stating that Kirk exaggerated his military service on his campaign website, describing himself as an Iraq War veteran even though he only served in the Navy Reserves and was never deployed.
“Sen. Kirk has been caught lying about his military record over ten 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,” Sisselman said.
Kirk, who has been accused of making racially insensitive remarks before, was initially unrepentant. Campaign spokesperson Eleni Emertzis said, “Sen. Kirk has consistently called Rep. Duckworth a war hero and honors her family’s service to this country. But that’s not what this debate was about. Rep. Duckworth lied about her legal troubles, was unable to defend her failures at the VA [where she served as an assistant secretary] and then falsely attacked Sen. Kirk over his record on supporting gay rights.”
But in a tweet on Oct. 28, Kirk said, “Sincere apologies to an American hero, Tammy Duckworth, and gratitude for her family’s service.”
During his fifth term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Kirk won two concurrent elections in November 2010, to finish the remainder of former Sen. Barack Obama’s term and to serve the next six-year term. He was already trailing Duckworth in the polls before the latest gaffe, and critics are now calling him a hypocrite because of his statement earlier this year that Donald Trump is “too bigoted and racist for the Land of Lincoln.”