A Republican senator who once called Donald Trump “too bigoted and racist” to be president has sparked outrage online with a racially charged statement questioning his opponent’s family’s military service.
Mark Kirk, a first-term senator from Illinois, currently trails Democratic congresswoman and Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth in most polls, but he has drawn praise from some within his state for being one of the first and few Republican senators to disavow Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
That goodwill from political moderates could soon be in jeopardy. During a debate Thursday night, Duckworth, a double-amputee who lost both her legs in Iraq, was speaking about her family’s military service stretching back to the American Revolution when Kirk replied, “I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.”
Duckworth was born in Thailand, and her mother is Thai, but her father, an American, served in the Marine Corps and traced his family’s ancestry to the Revolutionary War. Duckworth is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
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The full transcript is below.
Kirk’s questioning of Duckworth’s family’s military service is especially confusing in light of the fact that he has faced questions in the past over how he has presented his own military service, according to CNN. Earlier in the election, Kirk’s website described him as a “veteran of the Iraq War,” when in fact he never saw combat as a member of the Navy Reserves during the conflict.
Duckworth, meanwhile, was awarded a Purple Heart, Air Medal and Army Commendation Medal during her service. However, she has faced questions of her own when it comes to her personal service, with records showing she, as well as Kirk, exaggerated stories about where they were during the terrorist attacks on 9/11, per the Chicago Tribune.
An awkward pause followed Kirk’s comment, but Duckworth and many others soon fired back on social media.