DARING DUCKWORTH. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois),
right, waits for the elevator with an aide on Capitol Hill in
Washington, D.C. Duckworth doesn’t blend in, and that’s the way
she likes it. The decorated Iraq War veteran who lost both legs
when her helicopter was shot down is an Asian-American woman in
the mostly-white, mostly-male, and very fusty senate. And now,
with a baby due in April, she will be the first senator to give
birth while in office. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
From The Asian Reporter, V28, #5 (March 5, 2018), page
Senator Duckworth still breaking barriers, and
she likes it
By Laurie Kellman
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Breaking down barriers is nothing new for
senator Tammy Duckworth, and that’s the way she likes it.
The decorated Iraq War veteran who lost both legs when her
helicopter was shot down is an Asian-American woman in the
mostly white, mostly male, and very fusty senate. And now, with
a baby due in April, she’ll be the first senator to give birth
while in office.
And so, along with her legislative and political goals, the
Illinois Democrat is adding a new one: educating the
tradition-bound senate on creating a workplace that makes room
for new moms.
"She’s been through things that you and I will probably never
understand. So I’m sure for her (having a baby) is in no way
daunting," said representative Jaime Herrera Beutler
(R-Washington), who had two children while serving in congress.
"She’s also someone who’s had a whole career in a male-dominated
Duckworth, who turns 50 on March 12, says she appreciates the
historic nature of her baby’s birth, as well as the fact that
she represents working mothers and women having babies later in
life. She fully expects to have to find a place to nurse in some
quiet parlor off the senate floor.
But she says having a baby, a second daughter, is just one of
many stops on the trail ahead.
"This is the last job that I want," Duckworth said of the
senate seat once held by Barack Obama. The former president is
one of several men she ticks off as mentors and role models.
They include senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), former senator
Bob Dole (R-Kansas), and the late Democratic senators Daniel
Inouye of Hawai‘i and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts — all
backers of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which made
the nation’s landscape a little easier to navigate.
But she sees both problems with compliance and efforts to
undermine the law.
She points to flaws in Chicago’s mass transit system, for
example, and in a ladies’ room at a U.S. Embassy. And floating
through congress now is a bill designed to curb frivolous
lawsuits under the ADA that Duckworth and others say weakens it.
Duckworth is already in the history books. She’s the first
female amputee elected to congress, the first Asian American to
represent Illinois in Washington, and the first member of
congress born in Thailand. Her story of resilience and grit set
her in the rare company of grievously injured veterans who later
served in the senate — Dole, a World War II veteran, and John
McCain, who was kept prisoner for more than five years in
"If you take gender out of it, it’s not that new," said
Duckworth, a year into her own senate term.
But gender can’t be ignored as the nation reckons with sexual
misconduct at home and in the workplace, especially since
congress is not exactly known for being on the leading edge of
equality. The first area specifically set up for lactation
opened in the capitol only a dozen years ago. The house
installed its first lavatory for women lawmakers in 2011. The
senate has had its own women’s restroom for 25 years.
Duckworth, one of 22 women in the senate, has the experience
to give her policy advice and criticisms of President Donald
Trump an especially authoritative edge.
His demand for a military parade? "Our troops in danger
overseas don’t need a show of bravado, they need steady
leadership," she said.
His complaint that Democrats didn’t sufficiently applaud his
State of the Union address?
"I will not be lectured about what our military needs by a
five-deferment draft dodger," reads the tweet pinned atop her
page, referring to Trump’s deferment from Vietnam due to a foot
ailment. She refuses to "mindlessly cater to the whims of Cadet
Bone Spurs and clap when he demands I clap."
"The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" gave Duckworth full
credit for the nickname. In a gag ad, a new G.I. Joe doll
resembling Trump, named "Cadet Bonespurs," lolls in a hammock
while his comrades march off to war.
When Trump tweets that Democrats don’t care about the
military, "she takes that personally. She answered personally,"
Politics and the military were not Duckworth’s original
As she worked on a master’s degree in international affairs
in the early 1990s at George Washington University, Duckworth
was aiming to become an ambassador. She signed up for ROTC to
learn more about the military. She fell in love with the
challenge — and with a cadet named Bryan Bowlsbey. They married
in 1993. Duckworth has said she applied to fly helicopters
because she wanted the same opportunity as men — and because it
was one of the few combat jobs open to women.
She was the senior officer co-piloting a Black Hawk on
November 12, 2004, when a grenade fired by an Iraqi insurgent
exploded in a fireball at Duckworth’s feet. She lost both legs
and partial use of her arm and faced a gruelling recovery.
As she recovered, Duckworth befriended some important members
of the senate. Durbin invited Duckworth to be his guest at
President George W. Bush’s 2005 State of the Union address. And
Dole, who had lost much of the use of one arm to war, dedicated
his 2005 book to her. Duckworth, he wrote, "represents all those
with their own battles ahead of them."
But for all of her powerful patrons, achievements, and drive,
the senate terrain can still seem bumpy.
One day in December as Duckworth wheeled around a corner in
the capitol toward the senate’s historic vote on tax cuts, a
young police officer stopped her. The elevators, he said, were
reserved "for members only."
Duckworth looked up and, all business, informed him that
she’s the junior senator from Illinois.
The officer let Duckworth through — with apologies.