WASHINGTON — With a new assignment on the Armed Services Committee, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., is aiming to become a leading voice on military and national security issues.
She has the military experience and, as a wounded Iraq war vet, the moral authority to criticize President Donald Trump and not worry about accusations of being soft on defense.
Last year Duckworth nicknamed Trump “Cadet Bone Spurs” because of his medical excuse to avoid the draft. She has called him a “a five-deferment draft dodger” who need not lecture her on what the military needs.
On Wednesday, in a speech at the National Press Club, Duckworth intends to discuss how she will “use my new role — serving no longer from the pilot’s seat, but from my seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee — to make sure that the Armed Forces I love are the strongest they can be,” according to a draft of her address.
She plans to challenge Trump’s basic operating assumption, that more military spending automatically translates into a stronger military. One example: Trump’s ban on transgender military personnel.
Trump on Monday released the first part of his proposed fiscal 2020 budget, with increased Department of Defense funding plus a bid to replenish defense-related funds Trump commandeered when he declared a national emergency to build a wall on the U.S. southern border — the one Mexico was supposed to pay for.
“Just funneling money into the [defense] budget isn’t enough. If we want to win tomorrow’s wars, we have to reject yesterday’s oversimplified view of what constitutes national strength,” Duckworth plans to say. “For far too long, we’ve measured the might of our military by the size of our arsenal.”
Sixteen years ago this month former President George W. Bush launched the Iraq War that changed Duckworth’s life.
Many of you know the backstory on Duckworth, who turns 51 on Tuesday. Last April, Duckworth became the first sitting senator to give birth.
A member of the Illinois Army National Guard, she lost her legs and shattered her right arm when her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down over Iraq in 2004.
She ran the state of Illinois veterans affairs department and was an undersecretary in the Veterans Administration under former President Barack Obama.
When Duckworth was elected to the House in 2012, from a suburban Chicago district, she was among the first wave of female vets deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan to serve in Congress. She was a member of the House Committee on Armed Services.
Duckworth was elected to the Senate in 2016; it took a few years to land a slot on the Armed Services panel. Among other matters, she deals with military budget oversight and training as well as planning, bases, arsenals and a bunch of other issues related to military readiness.
She’s hardly nostalgic for past U.S. triumphs as she realistically looks ahead to military challenges and the Trump administration.
As Duckworth plans to say Wednesday, “China doesn’t care that we stormed the beaches of Normandy. Russia isn’t giving us points because once upon a time we outraced them to the moon. ISIS doesn’t give a damn what we did during Desert Storm.
“We will lose ground — literally and figuratively — if we sit back and assume that last century’s tactics will win us next decade’s wars [and] … if we believe that 2030’s battles will be decided solely by how much money we spend on tanks or rifles.”