Mark Kirk under fire for comments about Tammy Duckworth's Thai heritage

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk is under fire after making a biting reference to his challenger’s ethnic heritage during Thursday night’s Illinois Senate debate.

At one point in the debate, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who is leading in the incumbent in several polls, touted her family’s history of military service. The two-term Democratic lawmaker was born in Bangkok. Her mother is an immigrant of Chinese descent and her father, who served as a U.S. Marine, is of British heritage. She also noted she is a Daughter of the American Revolution through her father's side of the family.

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

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk is under fire after making a biting reference to his challenger’s ethnic heritage during Thursday night’s Illinois Senate debate.

After an awkward pause, Duckworth responded that she was “proud of both my father’s side and my mother’s side as an immigrant.”

On Friday, Kirk apologized via Twitter.

After the debate Thursday night, the Kirk campaign had pushed back against the suggestion Kirk was mocking Duckworth’s heritage.

"Senator Kirk has consistently called Rep. Duckworth a war hero and honors her family's service to this country,” Kirk campaign spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis said in a statement. “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."


Kirk, who is perhaps the most vulnerable GOP senator facing re-election, has criticized GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump for his controversial remarks. The senator retracted his endorsement of Trump in June after Trump raised doubts about an Indiana federal judge’s ability to treat him fairly, because of his Mexican heritage.

Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway took aim at Kirk on Twitter after the senator’s controversial debate remarks.

"The same Mark Kirk that unendorsed his party's presidential nominee and called him out in paid ads? Gotcha. Good luck," Conway wrote.


Kirk, who suffered a major stroke in 2012, has made his fair share of controversial comments before last night's remark about Duckworth.

In August, he called President Obama a “drug dealer in chief” over a $400 million payment to Iran linked to the release of American prisoners. Last year, he referred to Senate colleague Lindsey Graham as a “bro with no ho.”

The Chicago Tribune’s Republican-leaning editorial board cited concerns about Kirk’s health in its decision to endorse Duckworth, an Army National Guard veteran who was badly wounded and lost two legs while serving in Iraq.


More than 53% of likely voters said they believed Kirk could no longer perform his duties, according to a poll conducted earlier this month by Victory Research, an independent polling firm based in Chicago. Nearly 33% of those polled said Kirk fully recovered.

Follow USA TODAY Chicago correspondent Aamer Madhani on Twitter: @AamerISmad


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