U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who is campaigning for the Senate, told a City Club of Chicago crowd on Thursday that a letter sent to Iranian leaders and signed by Sen. Mark Kirk and 46 other Republicans undermined the nation and was a betrayal.
It was Duckworth’s strongest criticism so far about the letter warning a nuclear deal with President Barack Obama may not last after he leaves office. Negotiators have until June 30 to reach a deal, with the U.S. and five other countries calling for the gradual lifting of sanctions, and Iran seeking an immediate lift.
“You don’t undermine your own nation in a letter to a foreign head of state of another country, that has ‘Death to America’ as their slogan, when you are a representative of this country,” Duckworth said. “And, you know, maybe it’s the old soldier in me, but you just don’t do that. You don’t betray your nation like that.”
Duckworth said Iranians don’t look at Americans as Republicans and Democrats. “They just see American senators, who are undermining their own country.” She did, however, stress that Iran is a “real threat” and cannot be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
Duckworth, D-Ill., announced in late March that she’s running for a Senate seat. But first she’ll have to win a Democratic primary. Andrea Zopp announced Monday she was stepping down as president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League to run for the Senate.
Duckworth shared intimate stories about her life, including the day she lost both legs when the helicopter she was piloting was shot down in Iraq. She said she was given a second chance at life, with her mission being to help veterans adjust to life back home, with health insurance and career opportunities. A campaign employee videotaped the speech, which may be used in upcoming campaign commercials.
Duckworth, who became a new mom last year at 46, joked that her 6-month-old daughter, Abigail, is the “most beautiful, most advanced and clever little girl.” She called her “a gift.” Duckworth said her short time as mother has made her a better public servant. She said it’s made light of issues working moms face, including the need to make airports more friendly to new moms.
“We would never ask our fellow travelers to eat their meals in a bathroom, but we ask new mothers to pump breastmilk or feed their babies while sitting on a public toilet seat,” she said.
The FAM (Friendly Airports for Mothers) Act, which she introduced, would create accessible, safe and convenient locations for travelers to be able to pump milk and feed babies.
She spoke of the birth of her daughter, which she had through in vitro fertilization. The radiation from the many surgeries she had from war wounds may have affected her fertility, she said.
She said no woman should be fired from their job for seeking treatments to have a child: “I believe that every woman should have the same opportunity to have a child and no woman should lose her job for doing so.”
Earlier Thursday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he planned to remain neutral in the contested Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate.
Emanuel was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006 when Duckworth was first recruited to run for Congress. She won the Democratic primary that year with support from Emanuel, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Il.) and then-Sen. Barack Obama, but lost the general election to Republican Peter Roskam.
Emanuel does not intend to endorse Duckworth over Zopp, an Emanuel appointee to the Chicago Board of Education.
“Obviously, there’s gonna be a lot of candidates talking about running and discussing. I’m not gonna make a decision about a Senate election or a primary. Let those candidates do that,” the mayor said.
“My responsibility is to the people of the city of Chicago, to meet their obligations and needs on things like basic neighborhood services like graffiti removal.”
Duckworth said she considers Emanuel to be a “friend,” and said she hasn’t asked him for an endorsement.
“I haven’t asked anybody for an endorsement, so I think Rahm can speak for himself. He’s never been a shy guy,” Duckworth said. “Rahm’s a friend, and he’s certainly someone I’ve worked with over the years on veterans issue and other issues. He’ll speak for himself and make up his mind when he gets there, but I have not asked for an endorsement.”
Kirk’s campaign office issued a statement after Duckworth’s speech, saying the senator has an “independent voice in the midst of partisan gridlock.”
“The reason Rep. Duckworth is facing a significant primary is due in large part to what recent press accounts have described as a lackluster candidate with a weak record and thin policy acumen,” Kirk campaign manager Kevin Artl said in a statement.
Contributing: Fran Spielman