A debate between sitting Illinois Senator Mark Kirk and his Democratic opponent Representative Tammy Duckworth turned ugly on Thursday, when Kirk made racially-charged comments questioning the military service of Duckworth's family.

By Dave Quinn
October 28, 2016 07:04 AM

A debate between Republican Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk and the Democratic opponent challenging him for his seat, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, turned ugly on Thursday when Kirk made a racially-charged remark that questioned the military service of Duckworth’s family.

Duckworth, a U.S. Army veteran who lost both her legs in the Iraq war, is the daughter of a Thai-Chinese mother and U.S. Marine father. Duckworth’s father and his family had been in the United States for centuries — a point Duckworth brought up to illustrate her family’s legacy of service and her decision-making on issues of defense.

“My family has served this nation in uniform, going back to the Revolution,” she said. “I’m 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.”


Seth Perlman/AP
Seth Perlman/AP

In response, Kirk said: “I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.”

Duckworth initially stayed silent after the insult, but after the debate responded by tweeting a photo of herself with her parents.


“My mom is an immigrant and my dad and his family have served this nation in uniform since the Revolution,” she captioned the shot — which shows Duckworth’s father wearing medals of service on his uniform jacket.

Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty
Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty

Ironically, Kirk has falsely claimed he has earned and received military honors more than once in the past.

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“Senator Kirk has been caught lying about his military record over ten times,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokeswoman Lara Sisselman told NBC News after the debate. “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 Senator Kirk owes Congresswoman Duckworth and her family an apology.”

The Kirk campaign offered no apology or clarification for the remarks in a statement to NBC News.

“Senator Kirk has consistently called Rep. Duckworth a war hero and honors her family’s service to this country,” Eleni Demertzis, a spokesperson for the Kirk campaign, said. “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 and then falsely attacked Senator Kirk over his record on supporting gay rights.”