CHICAGO >> Fresh off her election to the U.S. Senate, Tammy Duckworth pledged to Chicago commuters and downstate residents today that she’d work with a White House and Congress controlled by Republicans.
With hopes dashed that that she might be part of a wave that returned the chamber to Democratic control, Duckworth said she will cooperate with Donald Trump and his Capitol Hill allies — as long as it benefits taxpayers.
“If the new administration proposes policies that are good for the people, I’ll work with them, but if they propose policies that are bad for the people, I will lead the charge to stand up,” she said.
The two-term representative from Hoffman Estates, who also stopped in Springfield and Peoria, entered one of the most closely watched Senate tilts as a heavy favorite against GOP Sen. Mark Kirk and will be the second woman to represent Illinois in that chamber.
Democrats had counted on a win in Illinois as they looked to retake control of the U.S. Senate, given that Illinois has long backed Democrats for statewide office, especially in presidential election years, but Republicans held onto their slim majority when GOP incumbents won in Missouri, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin.
Duckworth is the second person with Hawaii ties to hold the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois. Hawaii-born Barack Obama gave up the seat to run for president in 2008. Duckworth raduated from McKinley High School in Honolulu and attended the University of Hawaii.
After winning election Tuesday, Duckworth spoke about growing up in Hawaii in a family that had to use food stamps after her father lost his job, and also recounted the day 12 years ago when the helicopter she was co-piloting in Iraq was shot down, resulting in her losing both legs.
“I wake up every morning now, trying to be worthy of my crew and their struggle, to be worthy of this miraculous second chance,” Duckworth said in speaking about the members in her unit who carried her body to safety.
Kirk, a first-term senator, had worked for months to convince voters that he was independent of his party by criticizing Trump as “racist” and “delusional” and talking up his record of breaking from Republicans on issues such as gun control and gay marriage.
But he hurt his own campaign with a series of controversial statements, including last month, when he had to apologize to Duckworth after mocking her immigrant background — she was born in Bangkok to a Chinese-Thai mother and American father — and her family’s military history during a debate. Two organizations withdrew their endorsements, calling the remarks racist.
Kirk also had apologized for referring to South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who’s unmarried, as a “bro with no ho,” and was criticized for saying President Barack Obama was acting like “the drug dealer in chief” when his administration delivered $400 million cash to Iran contingent on the release of American prisoners.
In his concession speech, Kirk repeated an invitation to meet Duckworth at a Chicago tavern for a beer to “bury the hatchet.” The two will do so Friday, Veterans Day, since both are military veterans, though Duckworth noted her allergy to alcohol means she’ll have a soda.
Duckworth served as director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs after losing her first bid for Congress in 2006. In 2009, Obama appointed her to a leadership post at the federal VA.
Kirk, whose 2010 election made him only the second Republican to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate in a quarter-century, suffered a stroke in 2012. He battled questions during the race about whether he was still healthy enough to do the job.