Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican who is fighting a losing battle to retain his seat, went after his rival Tammy Duckworth’s Asian heritage during a debate on Thursday in a stunningly ill-judged jab at her family’s military service.
Duckworth, who has an American father and Thai mother, noted that her family has been serving in the military since the American Revolution.
Her father served in the Marine Corps and Duckworth herself served in Iraq as a helicopter pilot. She lost both her legs in 2004 when the helicopter she was piloting was hit by a grenade.
“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,” Duckworth said at the debate.
In response, Kirk made just one racist comment and then sat in silence until the debate moderator awkwardly moved things along.
“I had forgotten your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington,” Kirk said.
After the debate, Duckworth pointedly tweeted the following picture.
Kirk’s campaign issued a statement defending his attack:
“Senator 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 and then falsely attacked Senator Kirk over his record on supporting gay rights.”
This afternoon, after wall-to-wall criticism of his initial comment and non-apology, Kirk tweeted this statement:
The apology isn’t going down too well on Twitter:
This post has been updated to reflect Kirk’s latest comments on Twitter regarding the incident.