Sen. Mark Kirk defended himself Wednesday against claims made by Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth that he “lacks the ability to control what he’s saying” — calling that implication “awful” and insulting to stroke victims.
Kirk has been under fire for comments he made last week before the editorial board of The State Journal-Register in Springfield in which he said President Barack Obama is “acting like the drug dealer in chief” for handing over $400 million to Iran on the same day the country released U.S. hostages.
Duckworth on Tuesday called Kirk “unhinged” for his comments and urged him to apologize.
“If you look at all of the things he’s said, I think he lacks the ability to control what he’s saying, and you can look at the numerous gaffes that he’s had over the years,” Duckworth said after a City Club of Chicago event.
The Democrat sidestepped reporters’ questions about whether she was suggesting Kirk was suffering after effects from his stroke.
On Wednesday, Kirk and Duckworth both spoke at an Illinois Agricultural Legislative roundtable at a family farm in Downstate Normal, although the two appeared separately.
Speaking after the event, Kirk defended his comments about Obama, saying it’s “unhinged to send $400 million in cash to terrorists.” The Obama administration has denied GOP criticisms that the payment was “ransom,” saying the Iranian government would have received that payment despite the hostages. The money came from an account used to buy military equipment. But that equipment was never delivered after the shah’s government was overthrown in 1979.
When asked by a reporter whether he has a problem filtering his words, Kirk adamantly said no. The senator suffered a debilitating stroke in 2012.
“Not at all. Not at all,” Kirk said, adding it’s “sad” and “desperate” to try to insinuate he’s unfit to win re-election because he’s a stroke victim.
“I would say, you know, that is a sad part. She is so desperate to run for office she would denigrate any stroke victim in America and make fun of them. And that’s awful. You shouldn’t do that. For people that have strokes, they can make a tremendous comeback, mentally and physically,” Kirk said, adding he has climbed the stairs at the Willis Tower four times.
“Last time I was there I did 37 stories, and if you guys fall behind I won’t rebuke you,” he joked.
After the event, Duckworth continued her criticism of Kirk, saying “he has said a lot of really terrible things.”
“I just don’t think that’s language befitting of a United States senator, and I think it diminishes the office, and he should, he should apologize and let’s move on and let’s focus on what we need for the people of Illinois,” Duckworth said.
Later, Duckworth’s campaign shrugged off Kirk’s insinuation that she had insulted stroke victims.
“That dog won’t hunt. Mark Kirk has been making outlandish and often offensive statements since he’s been in office, including lying about his military record at least 10 times,” Duckworth campaign spokesman Matt McGrath. “The bottom line is that he accused the President of the United States of acting like a drug dealer, and he needs to apologize. His statement is beneath the dignity of the office he holds.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday also criticized Kirk for his comments about Obama, saying there’s a temptation for politicians on the ballot “to say outrageous things to try to get attention.”
“But that’s certainly no way to run a country, and it’s certainly no way to confront issues that are as important as preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, securing the safe return of U.S. Americans that are detained unjustly overseas and settling a 35-year-old financial dispute with an adversary of the United States in a way that saves taxpayers potentially billions of dollars,” Earnest said.
Earnest said this isn’t he first time we’ve heard “that kind of rhetoric from Sen. Kirk.”
In June 2015, Kirk joked that Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was a “bro with no ho,” explaining “that’s what we’d say on the South Side.” He also told reporters in April 2015 that he favored support for African-American businesses “so that the black community is not the one we drive faster through.”