Tammy Duckworth was born in Bangkok, Thailand, on March 12, 1968, and moved to Hawaii with her parents when she was a teenager. She earned a B.A. in political science at the University of Hawaii in 1989, and an M.A. in international affairs from George Washington University three years later. In 1992 Duckworth became a commissioned officer in the United States Army Reserve, and in 1996 she joined the Army National Guard. While pursuing a Ph.D. in political science in the ’90s and early 2000s – first at Northern Illinois University and then at Capella University – Duckworth also worked in Evanston as a manager for Rotary International’s Asia-Pacific Region.
In 2004, Duckworth was deployed to Iraq for active combat duty in the Iraq War. On November 12 of that year, the Black Hawk helicopter that she was piloting was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, causing her to lose nearly all of her right leg, half of her left leg, and partial use of her right arm.
In 2006, Duckworth, a Democrat, made a failed run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and was subsequently appointed as director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA). Her appointment was made by then-Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was later impeached and sentenced a 14-year prison term on corruption charges. According to a 2008 audit by Illinois Auditor General William Holland, the IDVA under Duckworth was guilty of numerous transgressions, including financial mismanagement, poor record-keeping, failure to inventory equipment, and abuse of travel budgets.
In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Duckworth as assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), where she served for the next two years. In 2012, Duckworth was elected to represent the Eighth Congressional District of Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives; she was re-elected two years later. In both campaigns, she received the endorsement and financial support of J Street. In 2012, for example, that organization raised $90,000 for Duckworth, ran television ads on her behalf, and disseminated political mailers to Jewish voters in her district.
During her tenure in Congress, Duckworth lauded the Hamas-affiliated Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for its “commitment to promoting tolerance and defending civil rights.” On one occasion, she thanked CAIR for its “leadership” in advancing “our mutual goal of guaranteeing equality and respect for all people.”
In 2015, Duckworth completed her requirements for a Ph.D. in human services from Capella University.
In March of that same year, Duckworth – who, during her years in the House, was never the main sponsor on any legislation that ultimately became law – announced her plan to run for the U.S. Senate in 2016 against Illinois’s incumbent Republican, Mark Kirk.
In September 2015, Duckworth spoke out in favor of the so-called Iran nuclear deal – an agreement that allowed the Islamist regime in Tehran to enrich uranium, build advanced centrifuges, purchase ballistic missiles, fund terrorism, and have a near-zero breakout time to a nuclear bomb approximately a decade down the road. “While not perfect, I believe the nuclear agreement provides the United States and our allies with the most realistic and effective course of action currently available to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” said Duckworth.
In February 2016,Duckworth asserted, without evidence, that two Iraqi refugees who were recently arrested on terrorism-related charges (in Texas and California) had been “radicalized because they’ve been on these talk hotlines with ISIS, [and] because they see people like Mark Kirk demonizing Muslims and Islam and wanting to shut down our borders.” “And that’s how we turn people against us, when we play right into ISIS’s hands,” Duckworth added, noting also that “[President] Donald Trump is out there … wanting to shut down all Muslims from entering the country.” That same year, Duckworth proposed that the U.S. should accept some 100,000 refugees from the war-torn, terrorism-infested nation of Syria.
Asserting that “climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time,” Duckworth in June 2017 condemned “President Trump’s decision to withdraw America from the Paris Climate Agreement” as “a grave mistake” that “will weaken U.S. influence on the global stage and, as other countries embrace green energy and technology, will leave our country’s economy behind.”
In February 2018, Duckworth stated that “a pillar of the American immigration system” was its commitment to “family reunification” and chain migration – a process whereby current immigrants can bring to the U.S. their entire extended families, who in turn can bring in their own extended families, and so on. “Family reunification reflects what is truly great about our nation,” Duckworth said. “It recognizes that what makes a family American is a shared commitment to the values of freedom and equality that are enshrined in the Constitution.”
In April 2018, Duckworth became the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office. This spurred the Senate members to vote unanimously in favor of a resolution that would allow senators to bring their infant children onto the Senate floor during regular business or during a vote on legislation.
In a July 5, 2020 interview on CNN’s State of the Union, journalist Dana Bash asked Duckworth: “Senator, I know that you support change in the name of military bases named after Confederate leaders, but there are leaders like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson who were slave owners. And some people are demanding their monuments come down, too. In your view, where does it end? Should statues, for example, of George Washington come down?” Duckworth replied: “Well, let me just say we should start off by having a national dialogue on it at some point.” When Bash subsequently pressed the question further, the senator said: “I think we should listen to everybody [regarding the removal of statues]. I think we should listen to the argument there.” She also criticized President Trump for having given a July 4 speech at Mount Rushmore, which she described as ”ground that was stolen from Native Americans who had actually been given that land during a treaty.” But five years earlier, during the Obama presidency, Duckworth had tweeted a July 4 photo of herself and others in festive, patriotic costumes, with the caption: “All dressd up as historic figures.I just coverd myself in Stars&Stripes. Next year I’m going as Mt.Rushmore!”
During a July 21, 2020 interview on CNN’s Newsroom, host Brianna Keilar said to Duckworth: “I want to ask you … about the attacks on you by Fox News host Tucker Carlson…. There was a discussion to be had when it came to removing monuments of American leaders and asked specifically about George Washington and did not agree to the idea of removing a monument, but you said there is a national discussion. He called you a moron. But I think what was more significant was that he called a coward. He said that you, among other Democrats, hate America. He questioned your patriotism as a combat veteran who lost your legs in Iraq. And I just wonder … what you think about that.” In the course of her reply, the congresswoman said: “I think he singled me out because I’m Asian-American and I look different. Asian-Americans have always been the other in our society. He [Carlson] doesn’t want America to be as diverse as it should be. In fact, he used, I think, ten words of the white supremacy statement on that.”
Over the years, Duckworth has received many donations from high-ranking officials and/or board members of Islamist organizations. Specifically, from 2012-2017, she received a total of $6,410 in contributions from individuals affiliated with the American Muslims for Palestine, the North American Islamic Trust, the Muslim American Society, the Islamic Association for Palestine, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
For an overview of Duckworth’s voting record on a variety of key issues, click here.
Further Reading: “Duckworth’s Record: Few Legislative Successes, Some Veterans Programs Sputtered” (Chicago Tribune, 10-19-16).