Republican senator mocks Thai heritage of rival Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran
I forgot your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington, said Mark Kirk of Thai-born Tammy Duckworth
A Republican senator struggling in his re-election race made a racially charged remark about his Democratic opponent in a debate Thursday night.
Illinois senator Mark Kirk tried to mock the Asian heritage of congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran, by suggesting that it somehow diminished her family’s long military service to the US.
“I had forgotten your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington,” Kirk said of Duckworth.
The third-term congresswoman, who was born in Thailand, is the daughter of a Thai woman of Chinese descent and an American father who traced his roots to the Revolutionary War. Members of the Duckworth family have served in the American armed forces since the revolution.
Duckworth herself served as a US Army helicopter pilot in the Iraq war, losing both her legs and severely injuring her right arm when the helicopter she was piloting was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2004.
Kirk’s comments came in response to a statement from Duckworth during the debate.
“My family has served this nation in uniform going back to the Revolution. I am a Daughter of the American Revolution,” Duckworth said, referring to the group whose members are the female descendants of those who served in the American Revolution.
“I’ve bled for this nation,” Duckworth continued. “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 and this is what you’re asking us to do.’ And if that’s the case, I’ll go. It’s families like mine that bleed first.
“But let’s make sure that the American people understand what we are engaging in and let’s hold our allies accountable because we can’t do it all.”
Kirk simply said in response: “I had forgotten your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington” and added nothing else as he sat silently.
The Illinois senator is also a veteran. Kirk served 23 years in the Naval Reserve as an intelligence officer and retired in 2013 after suffering a major stroke. He also became the first senior Republican to retract an endorsement of Donald Trump in the aftermath of the New York real estate developer’s remarks about federal judge Gonzalo Curiel in June. Kirk has since labelled Trump “a malignant clown”.
Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway took the opportunity to gloat over Kirk’s gaffe on Thursday night. She tweeted about the comment: “The same Mark Kirk that unendorsed his party’s presidential nominee and called him out in paid ads? Gotcha. Good luck.”
The Kirk-Duckworth race is widely considered the most likely opportunity for Democrats to pick up a seat in the US Senate. Illinois is a Democratic-leaning state and Kirk pulled off only a narrow victory in the Republican wave of 2010 against a scandal-prone Democratic candidate. The most recent poll gives Duckworth a 14-point lead over the Republican incumbent.