Ladda Tammy Duckworth (born March 12, 1968) is an American politician and a former U.S. Army lieutenant colonel serving as the junior United States Senator from Illinois since 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, she represented Illinois's 8th district in the United States House of Representatives from 2013 to 2017.
Duckworth was educated at the University of Hawaii and George Washington University. A combat veteran of the Iraq War, she served as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot. In 2004, after her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents, she suffered severe combat wounds, which caused her to lose both of her legs and some mobility in her right arm. She was the first female double amputee from the war. Despite her grievous injuries, she sought and obtained a medical waiver that allowed her to continue serving in the Illinois Army National Guard until she retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2014.
Duckworth served as Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs from 2006 to 2009 and as Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs from 2009 to 2011. In 2012, Duckworth was elected to the United States House of Representatives, where she served two terms. Duckworth was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016, defeating Republican incumbent Mark Kirk. The daughter of an American father and Thai mother, she is the first Thai American woman elected to Congress, the first person born in Thailand elected to Congress, the first woman with a disability elected to Congress, the first female double amputee in the Senate, and the first senator to give birth while in office. Duckworth is the second Asian American woman serving in the U.S. Senate, after Mazie Hirono, and before Kamala Harris.
Early life and education
L. Tammy Duckworth was born in Bangkok, Thailand, the daughter of Franklin Duckworth and Lamai Sompornpairin. Under long standing US law, she is a natural-born citizen because her father is American. Her father, who died in 2005, was a veteran of the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps who traced his family's American roots to the American Revolutionary War. Her mother is Thai Chinese and originally from Chiang Mai. Her father worked with the United Nations and international companies in refugee, housing, and development programs, and the family moved around Southeast Asia. Duckworth became fluent in Thai and Indonesian, in addition to English.
Duckworth attended Singapore American School, the International School Bangkok, Jakarta Intercultural School (then known as Jakarta International School) for a few months her senior year in the class of 1985 , and graduated with honors from McKinley High School in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1985 after her family settled in Hawaii when she was sixteen. She skipped 9th grade. Her father was unemployed for a time, and the family relied on public assistance. She graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1989 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science and later received a Master of Arts in international affairs from George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs. She began a PhD program at Northern Illinois University, which was interrupted by her war service. She completed a PhD in human services at Capella University in March 2015.
Following in the footsteps of her father, who served in World War II and the Vietnam War, and ancestors who served in every major conflict since the Revolutionary War, Duckworth joined the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps in 1990 as a graduate student at George Washington University. She became a commissioned officer in the United States Army Reserve in 1992 and chose to fly helicopters because it was one of the few combat jobs open to women at that time. As a member of the Army Reserve, she went to flight school, later transferring to the Army National Guard and in 1996 entering the Illinois Army National Guard. Duckworth also worked as a staff supervisor at Rotary International headquarters in Evanston, Illinois and was the coordinator of the Center for Nursing Research at Northern Illinois University.
Duckworth was working toward a Ph.D. in political science at Northern Illinois University, with research interests in the political economy and public health in southeast Asia, when she was deployed to Iraq in 2004. She lost her right leg near the hip and her left leg below the knee from injuries sustained on November 12, 2004, when the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter she was co-piloting was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents. She was the first American female double amputee from the Iraq War. The explosion severely broke her right arm and tore tissue from it, necessitating major surgery to repair it. Duckworth received a Purple Heart on December 3 and was promoted to Major on December 21 at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where she was presented with an Air Medal and Army Commendation Medal. She retired from the Illinois Army National Guard in October 2014 as a lieutenant colonel.
On November 21, 2006, several weeks after losing her first congressional campaign, Duckworth was appointed Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs by Governor Rod Blagojevich. She served in that position until February 8, 2009. While Director, she was credited with starting a program to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and veterans with brain injuries.
On September 17, 2008, Duckworth attended a campaign event for Dan Seals, the Democratic candidate for Illinois's 10th congressional district. She used vacation time, but violated Illinois law by going to the event in a state-owned van that was equipped for a person with physical disabilities. She acknowledged the mistake and repaid the state for the use of the van.
In 2009, two Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs employees at the Anna Veterans' Home in Union County filed a lawsuit against Duckworth. The lawsuit alleged that she wrongfully terminated one employee and threatened and intimidated another for bringing reports of abuse and misconduct of veterans when she was head of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. Duckworth was represented in the suit by the Illinois Attorney General's office. The case was dismissed twice but refilings were allowed. The case settled in June 2016 for $26,000 with no admission of wrongdoing. The plaintiffs later indicated they no longer wanted to settle, but the judge gave them 21 days to sign the settlement and canceled the trial.
Also in 2009, the Illinois Auditor General released an audit of the Veterans Affairs department. Some issues noted by the audit predated Duckworth's tenure. Its findings included a fiscal year 2007 report that was not completed on time, failure to conduct annual reviews of benefits received by Illinois veterans, and failure to establish a task force to study the possible health effects of exposure to hazardous materials. The routine audit covered a two-year period, June 2006 to June 2008.
On February 3, 2009, Duckworth was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.  and the United States Senate confirmed her for the position on April 22. As Assistant Secretary, she coordinated a joint initiative with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help end Veteran homelessness, worked to address the unique challenges faced by female as well as Native American Veterans and created the Office of Online Communications to improve the VA’s accessibility, especially among young Veterans. Duckworth resigned her position in June 2011 in order to launch her campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives in Illinois's 8th Congressional District.
U.S. House of Representatives
After longtime incumbent Republican Henry Hyde announced his retirement from Congress, several candidates began campaigning for the open seat. Duckworth won the Democratic primary with a plurality of 44%, defeating 2004 nominee Christine Cegelis with 40%, and Wheaton College professor Lindy Scott with 16%. State Senator Peter Roskam was unopposed in the Republican primary. For the general election, Duckworth was endorsed by EMILY's List, a political action committee that supports female Democratic candidates who back abortion rights. Duckworth was also endorsed by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Fraternal Order of Police. While she raised $4.5 million to Roskam's $3.44 million, Duckworth lost by 4,810 votes, receiving 49% to Roskam's 51%.
In July 2011, Duckworth launched her campaign to run in 2012 for Illinois's 8th congressional district. She defeated former Deputy Treasurer of Illinois Raja Krishnamoorthi for the Democratic nomination on March 20, 2012, then faced incumbent Republican Joe Walsh in the general election. Duckworth received the endorsement of both the Chicago Tribune and the Daily Herald. Walsh generated controversy when in July 2012, at a campaign event, he accused Duckworth of politicizing her military service and injuries, saying "my God, that's all she talks about. Our true heroes, the men and women who served us, it's the last thing in the world they talk about." Walsh called the controversy over his comments "a political ploy to distort my words and distract voters" and said that "Of course Tammy Duckworth is a hero ... I have called her a hero hundreds of times."
On November 6, 2012, Duckworth defeated Walsh 55%–45%, making her the first Asian-American from Illinois in Congress, the first woman with a disability elected to Congress, and the first member of Congress born in Thailand.
In the 2014 general election, Duckworth faced Republican Larry Kaifesh, a United States Marine Corps officer who had recently left active duty as a colonel. Duckworth defeated Kaifesh with 56% of the vote.
Tenure in the House of Representatives
Duckworth was sworn into office on January 3, 2013.
On April 3, 2013, Duckworth publicly returned 8.4% ($1,218) of her congressional salary for that month to the United States Department of Treasury in solidarity with furloughed government workers.
On June 26, 2013, during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Duckworth received national media attention after questioning Strong Castle CEO Braulio Castillo on a $500 million government contract the company had been awarded based on Castillo's disabled veteran status.
House committee assignments
- Committee on Armed Services
- Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
- Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements (2013–2015)
- Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation and Regulatory Affairs (2013–2015)
- Subcommittee on Transportation and Public Assets, Ranking Member (2015–2017)
- Subcommittee on Information Technology (2015–2017)
- United States House Select Committee on Benghazi (May 2014–July 2016)
On March 30, 2015, Duckworth announced that she would challenge incumbent U.S. Senator Mark Kirk for his seat in the 2016 Senate election in Illinois. Duckworth defeated fellow Democrats Andrea Zopp and Napoleon Harris in the primary election on March 15, 2016.
During a televised debate on October 27, 2016, Duckworth talked about her ancestors' past service in the United States military. Kirk responded, "I'd forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington." The comment led to the Human Rights Campaign withdrawing their endorsement of Kirk and switching it to Duckworth, stating his comments were "deeply offensive and racist."
Duckworth was endorsed by Barack Obama who actively campaigned for her.
On November 8, Duckworth defeated Kirk 54 percent to 40 percent to win the Senate seat. Duckworth and Kamala Harris, who was also elected in 2016, are the second and third female Asian American senators, after Mazie Hirono who was elected in 2012.
Tenure in the Senate
According to The Center for Effective Lawmaking (CEL), a joint partnership between the University of Virginia's Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and Vanderbilt University, Duckworth's "Legislative Effectiveness Score" (LES) is "Exceeds Expectations" as a freshman senator in the 115th Congress (2017-2018), the 11th highest out of 48 Democratic senators.
GovTrack's Report Card on Duckworth for the 115th Congress found that among Senate freshmen, she ranked first in favorably reporting bills out of committee and "Got influential cosponsors the most often compared to Senate freshmen." GovTrack also found that in the first session of the 116th Congress, Duckworth ranked first in favorably reporting bills out of committee and "Got influential cosponsors the most often compared to Senate sophomores."
During the 115th Congress, Duckworth was credited with saving the Americans with Disabilities Act. Specifically, she led public opposition to a controversial bill, H.R. 620, and led 42 senators in pledging to oppose any effort to pass H.R. 620 through the Senate. The Veterans Service Organization and Paralyzed Veterans of America recognized Duckworth's leadership in defending the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In January 2018, when the federal government shut down after the Senate could not agree on a funding bill, Duckworth responded to President Trump's accusations that the Democrats were putting "unlawful immigrants" ahead of the military:
I spent my entire adult life looking out for the well-being, the training, the equipping of the troops for whom I was responsible. Sadly, this is something that the current occupant of the Oval Office does not seem to care to do—and I will not be lectured about what our military needs by a five-deferment draft dodger. And I have a message for Cadet Bone Spurs: If you cared about our military, you'd stop baiting Kim Jong Un into a war that could put 85,000 American troops, and millions of innocent civilians, in danger.
In 2018 Duckworth became the first U.S. Senator to give birth while in office. Shortly afterward, the Senate passed Senate Resolution 463, which Duckworth introduced on April 12, 2018, by unanimous consent. The resolution changed Senate rules so that a senator may bring a child under one year old to the Senate floor during votes. The day after the rules were changed, Duckworth's daughter became the first baby on the Senate floor.
Senate committee assignments
- Committee on Armed Services (2019–present)
- Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
- Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security
- Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet
- Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security
- Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security
- Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (2017–2019)
- Committee on Environment and Public Works
- Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship
Duckworth voted against Senator Bernie Sanders's amendment to reduce the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021.
In April 2019, Duckworth was one of 12 senators to sign a bipartisan letter to top senators on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development advocating that the Energy Department be granted maximum funding for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), arguing that American job growth could be stimulated by investment in viable options to capture carbon emissions and expressing disagreement with Trump's 2020 budget request to combine the two federal programs that include carbon capture research.
During her unsuccessful congressional campaign in 2006, Duckworth called on Congress to audit the estimated $437 billion spent on overseas military and foreign aid since September 11, 2001.
In October 2006, The Sunday Times reported that Duckworth agreed with General Sir Richard Dannatt, the British Army chief, that the presence of coalition troops was exacerbating the conflict in Iraq.
Duckworth supports continued U.S. military aid to Israel and opposes the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. She voiced her opposition to Israel's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.
In May 2019, Duckworth was a cosponsor of the South China Sea and East China Sea Sanctions Act, a bipartisan bill reintroduced by Marco Rubio and Ben Cardin that was intended to disrupt China's consolidation or expansion of its claims of jurisdiction over both the sea and air space in disputed zones in the South China Sea.
Duckworth was rated by the National Rifle Association as having a pro-gun control congressional voting record. Duckworth, who is a gun owner herself, cites violence in Chicago as a major influence for her support of gun control. She supports universal background checks and the halting of state-to-state gun trafficking.
Duckworth participated in the 2016 Chris Murphy gun control filibuster. During the sit-in, Duckworth hid her mobile phone in her prosthetic leg to avoid it being taken away from her since taking pictures and recording on the House floor is against policy.
In a 2016 interview with GQ magazine, Duckworth stated that gaining control of the Senate and "closing the gap" in the House would be necessary in order to pass common sense gun laws. She also stated that she believed moderate Republicans, who support common sense gun control, would have more power to influence gun control if they were not "pushed aside by those folks who are absolutely beholden to the NRA. And so we never get the vote."
Duckworth supports comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for those in the country illegally. She would admit 100,000 Syrian refugees into the United States.
In August 2018, Duckworth was one of seventeen senators to sign a letter spearheaded by Kamala Harris to United States Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen demanding that the Trump administration take immediate action in attempting to reunite 539 migrant children with their families, citing each passing day of inaction as intensifying "trauma that this administration has needlessly caused for children and their families seeking humanitarian protection."
|Democratic||L. Tammy Duckworth||14,283||43.85|
|Republican||Peter J. Roskam||91,382||51.35|
|Democratic||L. Tammy Duckworth||86,572||48.65|
|Write-in votes||Patricia Elaine Beard||3||0.00|
|Republican||Joe Walsh (incumbent)||101,860||45.26|
|Democratic||Tammy Duckworth (incumbent)||84,178||55.73|
|Democratic||Patricia Elaine Beard||1||0.00|
|Republican||Mark Steven Kirk (incumbent)||2,184,692||39.78|
|Write-in votes||Chad Koppie||408||0.01|
|Write-in votes||Jim Brown||106||0.00|
|Write-in votes||Christopher Aguayo||77||0.00|
|Write-in votes||Susana Sandoval||42||0.00|
|Write-in votes||Eric Kufi James Stewart||5||0.00|
|Write-in votes||Patricia Beard||1||0.00|
Awards and accolades
In May 2010, Duckworth was awarded the Honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) by Northern Illinois University.  In 2011, Chicago's Access Living honored Duckworth for her work on behalf of veterans with disabilities, bestowing her with the Gordon H. Mansfield Congressional Leadership Award.
Duckworth is heavily decorated for her service in Iraq, with over 10 distinct military honors. Most notably the Purple Heart, an award her marine father had also received.
Former Republican presidential candidate and Senator from Kansas Bob Dole dedicated his autobiography One Soldier's Story in part to Duckworth. Duckworth credits Dole for inspiring her to pursue public service, while she recuperated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center; although, in 2006, Dole endorsed Duckworth's Republican opponent, Peter Roskam.
Duckworth is married to Bryan Bowlsbey. The couple has two daughters: Abigail, who was born in 2014, and Maile, born in 2018. Maile's birth made Duckworth the first U.S. Senator to give birth while in office. Former senator Daniel Akaka (Democrat of Hawaii) helped the couple with the naming of both daughters; Akaka died April 6, 2018, three days before Maile was born. Shortly after Maile's birth, a Senate rule change permitted senators to bring children under one year old on the Senate floor to breastfeed. This was symbolic moment for Duckworth as she had previously introduced the bipartisan Friendly Airports for Mothers (FAM) Act to ensure new mothers have access to safe, clean and accessible lactation rooms when traveling through airports. The day after the rule change, Duckworth brought Maile with her during the casting of a Senate vote, making Duckworth the first senator to cast a vote while holding a baby.
Duckworth helped establish the Intrepid Foundation to help injured veterans.
In August 2020, due to the covid-19 pandemic, Duckworth told NPR in an interview that she is also homeschooling her children.
- List of Asian Americans and Pacific Islands Americans in the United States Congress
- List of United States Senators born outside the United States
- Fighting Dems
- Women in the United States House of Representatives
- Women in the United States Senate
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Finally, we note those new freshmen lawmakers who are off to a promising start in their first two years, scoring in our “Exceeds Expectations” category in their first term in office. Research suggests that performance in a lawmaker’s freshman term is highly correlated with subsequent lawmaking effectiveness, as well as with their overall career trajectory.
Among them are two Senators (out of the eleven Senators in their freshman class), John Kennedy of Louisiana and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. Kennedy sponsored 26 bills, including four that passed the Senate and eventually became law, on issues ranging from national flood insurance and small business disaster loans to mandatory disclosure of corrupt practices among lobbyists. Duckworth shepherded three of her 45 proposed bills into law, including the Veterans Small Business Enhancement Act of 2018.
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Thanks to Senator Duckworth’s outstanding leadership, harmful changes to the ADA were stopped in 2018. She also supported improvements to air travel for people with disabilities through her sponsorship of the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act (S. 669) and the requirement under the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 to ensure wheelchair damage reporting from airlines.
We’re proud to honor Senator Duckworth with the Gordon H. Mansfield Congressional Leadership Award during our 2019 PVA Gala. The PVA Gala is our night to celebrate victories that have improved quality of life for all veterans and people living with disabilities – and the extraordinary leaders who made it happen. Senator Duckworth represents everything this event is about.
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- Mr. Rubio (for himself, Mr. Cardin, Mr. Cotton, Mr. Kaine, Mr. Young, Mr. Blumenthal, Mr. Hawley, Mrs. Gillibrand, Mr. Scott of Florida, Mr. Manchin, Mrs. Blackburn, Ms. Duckworth, Mr. Cornyn, Mr. Jones, and Mr. Romney) (May 23, 2019). "Text - S.1634 - 116th Congress (2019-2020): South China Sea and East China Sea Sanctions Act of 2019 - Congress.gov - Library of Congress". Congress.gov. 116th United States Congress. Archived from the original on April 24, 2020. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
A BILL To impose sanctions with respect to the People's Republic of China in relation to activities in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, and for other purposes.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tammy Duckworth.|
- Senator Tammy Duckworth official U.S. Senate site
- Tammy Duckworth for Senate official campaign site
- Tammy Duckworth at Curlie
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- Biography at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Profile at Vote Smart
- Financial information (federal office) at the Federal Election Commission
- Legislation sponsored at the Library of Congress
- Front & Center with John Callaway: Returning Veterans: How Warm A Welcome? at the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, July 12, 2007
| Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs
| Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
|U.S. House of Representatives|
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 8th congressional district
|Party political offices|
| Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Illinois
| U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Illinois
Served alongside: Dick Durbin
|U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)|
| United States Senators by seniority