Sen. Mark Kirk and Rep. Tammy Duckworth participated in an agricultural roundtable Wednesday in Normal, taking the stage separately and trading barbs throughout the day.
During her time on stage, Duckworth addressed her plan to accept 200,000 refugees to America, 100,000 of which would come from Syria. The congresswoman warned that leaving children in refugee camps was tantamount to “jeopardizing American security."
“If we leave kids to grow up in those refugee camps and we turn our back and we create a religious litmus test for who can come to this country, we are feeding ISIS propaganda,” Duckworth said. “We are growing the next generation of kids who will grow up to be people who shoot down American helicopters like the kid who shot me down.”
Shortly thereafter, Kirk questioned the refugee vetting process.
"She tried to tell you that the Syrians who are coming into the United States are somehow different,” Kirk said. “She’s asking you to suspend your common sense. They’re all from Syria."
“We cannot make the same mistake that Europe did, letting all of these people in,” Kirk said.
The senator noted that 1,000 Syrian refugees would “outnumber the number of FBI agents right here in Illinois.”
“I think it’s better to pause the program and leave those people out of the United States,” Kirk said to a smattering of applause. “Let’s pick safety first."
Last week, Kirk likened President Barack Obama to “the drug dealer in chief” for making a $400 million cash payment to Iran that was tied to the release of American prisoners. Duckworth called Kirk “unhinged” for the comments Tuesday during a speech in front of the City Club of Chicago. The word means "mentally unbalanced." Duckworth ultimately backed off when reporters asked if voters should consider the aftereffects of Kirk's 2012 stroke, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The Republican responded during a press conference following the roundtable Wednesday.
"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," Kirk said. "You shouldn't do that. For people who have strokes, they can make tremendous comebacks mentally and physically."
The payment was announced in January, a day after the Americans were freed and on the same weekend U.N. sanctions against Iran were lifted. The White House and State Department have denied Republicans’ claims that the transaction served as a ransom payment, claiming the timing was coincidental.
According to the State Department, the $400 million was used by Iran to purchase weapons and equipment from the U.S. while the shah was still in control, Prior to the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
Kirk refused to apologize for his controversial comments Wednesday, calling the $400 million cash transfer to Iran "unhinged."
"My opponent called me unhinged for referring to the drug dealer practice, but I would say it’s unhinged to send $400 million in cash to terrorists,” Kirk said.
After being asked if he has a problem filtering some of his comments, Kirk responded, “not at all.”
“I have a problem, definitely, with sending $400 million in €500 notes directly to the ayatollahs,” Kirk said. “Remember, the State Department has changed its story very much on this. At first they said it was not ransom, now they say it was leverage.”
During Duckworth’s press conference, the congresswoman wasn't surprised when a reporter told her that Kirk refused to apologize to the president.
“That fits a pattern, doesn’t it,” Duckworth asked reporters. “He said a lot of really terrible things. Whether it was his ‘bro with no ho’ comment, or, you know, now this, calling the president the equivalent of a dealer in chief.”
"I just don’t think that’s language befitting of a United States senator and I think it diminishes the office and he should apologize and let’s move on and let’s focus on what we need for the people of Illinois," she added.
“This is not the first time that we’ve heard that kind of rhetoric from Senator Kirk,” Earnest said during a White House press conference. “And I don’t think that kind of rhetoric is consistent with the views of most people in Illinois about the efforts of President Obama to advance our interests around the would and prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Earnest acknowledged that there was a “temptation” for politicians “to say outrageous things to try to get attention” during an election.
"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.
According to election ratings released Wednesday, the New York Times gives Duckworth an 80 percent chance of winning Kirk's seat in November.