Sen. Mark Kirk and Rep. Tammy Duckworth spent their final U.S. Senate debate Friday talking about the Supreme Court, defending their health and pondering the challenges they’d face with a Donald Trump presidency.
The stakes are high in the race. Democrats are relying on winning Illinois as they try to regain control of the Senate — and Kirk is viewed as one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans.
Kirk has been an outspoken Trump critic since June when he became the first Republican senator seeking re-election to denounce him.
“I think that given his personality, I would probably have a lousy relationship with him,” Kirk said Friday at the ABC7 Chicago debate, adding he didn’t expect a Trump win.
Kirk said he is not one of those Republicans who will “sell their soul” to the party just to show allegiance.
“I will not do that. I will make sure that I always call it the way I see it. In this case, just because he’s the Republican nominee, doesn’t mean he’s the best for the country,” Kirk said.
Duckworth took a more careful turn with her answer, saying she’d work with Trump “when his policies are for the good of the country.” But she said she wouldn’t replicate a stonewall of what Congressional Republicans have done for President Obama.
Kirk, who calls himself a moderate and independent, was grilled on why he supports Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, despite their many differences.
“In my case, Mitch McConnell is pro-life and anti-gun control. So I disagree with him. You disagree without being disagreeable,” Kirk said.
Kirk — the first Republican senator to meet with Obama’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, Merrick Garland — said it’s “unreasonable” to hold up the appointment.
“You cannot hold up the system for years and years. That’s not reasonable. That’s not what the Constitution says,” Kirk said. If Clinton wins, “they have their right to bring forth that nominee. That’s just the way the system works.”
Duckworth called Kirk’s meeting with Garland a “nice photo opp,” but said he should also have stood up to McConnell.
“What he should have done would have been to gather his colleagues to send a letter to his leaders, to [Sen.] Chuck Grassley to Mitch McConnell, to say we will not vote for you until you have these hearings. And he didn’t do that,” Duckworth said.
On marijuana, Duckworth said she’d support the expansion of medical marijuana programs to help people with severe medical issues. Kirk said he wouldn’t support federal legalization of marijuana because “long term-use of marijuana can lower physical and mental performance.”
“I don’t think the country is not high enough,” Kirk said.
Both candidates are survivors who have overcome giant physical challenges. Kirk suffered a stroke in 2012, leaving him partially paralyzed on his left side. Duckworth lost both legs and shattered her right arm in the Illinois National Guard when her Blackhawk helicopter was shot down in Iraq in 2004.
Both candidates were asked whether they’re healthy enough to serve in the U.S. Senate.
Kirk noted his doctor released a letter saying he’s made a “full mental recovery,” and touted his fifth Willis Tower climb, which he’s scheduled to do Sunday. Duckworth spoke of completing the Chicago Marathon for the fourth time. She released her full medical record in September.
Under fire for a remark he made at last week’s downstate debate, Kirk used Friday’s introductory remarks to thank Duckworth for accepting an apology over what many called a racist remark about her family history — a move that’s cost him endorsements.
During the debate in Springfield last week, Duckworth said her family had served the nation in uniform “going back to the Revolution.”
“I’ve forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington,” Kirk interjected.
Kirk apologized the day after, and on Friday, he doubled down.
“You are to be honored and the way we repay that debt is by honoring your service, especially of you and your family,” Kirk told Duckworth.
Asked again to defend his remarks, he said he is “absolutely not a racist. … I wasn’t thinking. It was a mistake.”
The debate, which aired Friday night, is in conjunction with Univision Chicago and the League of Women Voters of Illinois.
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