Sen. Mark Kirk and Rep. Tammy Duckworth squared-off Monday during a meeting with the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board, covering a range of topics including national security and the current presidential race.
During the event, which was broadcast via Facebook Live on the Tribune’s Facebook page, Duckworth repeatedly challenged Kirk’s record, while the senator gave concise, somewhat reserved answers throughout.
Among the criticisms, Duckworth faulted Kirk for likening President Barack Obama to a “drug dealer in chief” for making a $400 million cash payment to Iran that was tied to the release of American prisoners. In August, Duckworth called Kirk “unhinged” for making the comment.
At the time, the senator claimed Duckworth’s use of the word “unhinged” was related to his 2012 stroke. Duckworth denied those claims Monday, but continued to hammer Kirk on past gaffes, including his calling South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham a “bro with no ho” last June.
“I think that it’s irresponsible and not befitting of a United States senator and he’s been saying these things for well over ten years,” Duckworth said during the meeting.
In response, Kirk owned some of his mistakes, noting the increased scrutiny that he and his opponent have been under during the campaign.
“I would say that I have been too quick with a turn of phrase,” Kirk told the editorial board. “Congresswoman Duckworth and I are in tight races where everything that we say is going to be criticized in excruciating detail.”
“If I have been too quick to turn a phrase, then that’s just my bad,” Kirk added.
The Republican noted that he immediately apologized for the comments about Graham, his Senate colleague, but continued to scrutinize the Iran payment, referring to it as a "ransom."
The candidates also discussed their respective approaches to the crisis in Syria. Duckworth called for assistance from NATO allies, namely Turkey, to remove President Bashar al-Assad and his regime. The Democrat also recommended working with Russia to create and enforce a no-fly zone and ceasefire in the region.
Kirk, on the other hand, supports a plan to create a safe haven for refugees in neighboring Jordan that would be enforced by U.S. Navy forces stationed in the Mediterranean Sea. Kirk said he supported sending additional troops to Jordan, claiming the country’s King Abdullah II “would welcome that.”
Nevertheless, Duckworth, who cited her combat history throughout the session, remained reticent about increasing U.S. troop presence in the region.
Both candidates also fielded questions about their presidential choices.
Kirk, who disavowed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in June, once again claimed he was planning to write-in retired four-star Army Gen. David Petraues, who resigned from his post as the CIA’s director in 2012 following a scandal stemming from an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. He later pleaded guilty in federal court last year to a charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified information, which he supplied to Broadwell.
Nevertheless, Kirk admitted that his vote wouldn’t count in Illinois because Petraeus isn’t registered as a write-in candidate. Duckworth said it was “troubling” Kirk was still talking about voting for Petraeus, who can’t attain the necessary security clearance to become president.
The congresswoman also fielded questions about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail scandal, referring to FBI director James Comey’s findings in July. At the time, Comey criticized Clinton for her private home e-mail server, but didn’t recommend any criminal charges against the former Secretary of State. The congresswoman noted that she called on Clinton to turn over her e-mails throughout her campaign for Senate.
“Hillary is someone I will stand up to and oppose,” Duckworth said Monday. “She was wrong when she fell for the Iraq War.”
The Democrat then went on to criticize her opponent for also voting in favor of the war. During the debate, she claimed Kirk has been wrong on national security issues "time and time again."
Both candidates were also critical of Trump potentially dodging federal income taxes for nearly two decades, according to the New York Times.
The Tribune’s Facebook Live event received nearly 400 comments and over 200 reactions that sent various emojis skittering across the screen throughout the debate. Additionally, both campaigns sent out multiple e-mails supplementing the candidates’ talking points during the event. The spin continued after the debate with the Kirk campaign declaring victory.
"Today's debate at the Chicago Tribune made it crystal clear that Senator Mark Kirk's independent leadership on critical issues and his dedication to always putting Illinois first make him the only qualified candidate to represent Illinois families in the U.S. Senate," the Kirk campaign said. "Rated as one of the least effective members of Congress, Representative Duckworth only offered plans that raise taxes, increase spending and drive our nation further into debt."
"Illinois taxpayers simply cannot afford Rep. Duckworth," the campaign added.
Moving forward, Duckworth has agreed to four more debates, while Kirk has only officially agreed to two more. On Monday, the senator tentatively signed on to an additional debate that will air on Chicago's ABC 7. That debate will be done in partnership with the League of Women Voters and Univision Chicago.