RIVER NORTH — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Duckworth called incumbent Mark Kirk "unhinged" Tuesday and demanded he apologize for labeling President Barack Obama "the drug-dealer-in-chief."
Calling that "inflammatory rhetoric" and "beyond the pale," Duckworth, a U.S. House member from Hoffman Estates, said in a luncheon speech to the City Club that Kirk "has just joined a rogues' gallery of the president's fiercest and most unhinged critics."
In a news conference afterward, she refused to back down, saying, "I do think he's unhinged" and calling on Kirk to "apologize to the people of Illinois and the president."
Criticizing a $400 million payment to Iran that some Republicans have called "ransom" for releasing four U.S. prisoners earlier this year, Kirk told a downstate newspaper Sunday: "We can't have the president of the United States acting like the drug-dealer-in-chief."
Kirk's campaign likewise refused to back down Tuesday, with campaign manager Kevin Artl issuing a statement in response to Duckworth saying: "The actions of the administration, including the use of unmarked cargo planes, pallets full of clean packs of foreign cash and an agreement with Iran that they only get the cash once the hostages are released, seems more representative of nefarious deals than the conduct of the world's greatest democracy."
Kirk "believes the administration's actions, which Tammy Duckworth has supported, were reckless in the extreme and will ultimately endanger more Americans abroad and is almost certain to fund terrorism," Artl said.
The Obama administration has said that the money was not ransom but Iranian cash that was frozen by the United States since 1979, though the U.S. State Department acknowledged using the $400 million as "leverage" to make sure the hostages were released.
Otherwise, Duckworth attacked Kirk as a nonentity in the U.S. Senate. "He's only there when you don't need him," she said. "He's either a no-show or he's ineffective." She charged Kirk is "not a fiscal conservative. He's a fiscal phony."
Kirk, meanwhile, attempted to tie her to state Speaker of the House Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), with Artl saying, "Throughout her political career, Duckworth has consistently supported more government spending, higher taxes and greater debt. Even doubling down on her calls for tax hikes, she supports Speaker Madigan who has called for higher income taxes for every Illinois family. Sen. Mark Kirk supports lower taxes on working families, controlling government spending and reforms that root out waste and fraud so that the programs Americans rely on the most get the funding they need."
Duckworth dismissed an endorsement Kirk picked up Tuesday from a gun-control Political Action Committee run by former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) as "a political decision on their part," rewarding Kirk for votes in favor of gun control. Duckworth maintained she had a stronger record on gun-control legislation.
Duckworth sidestepped a question on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's handling of the Laquan McDonald case, saying she found it "problematic," but declining to otherwise criticize the mayor.
Aside from her campaign attacks on Kirk, Duckworth's main purpose for addressing the City Club was to lay out her economic proposals.
"I want to see a manufacturing renaissance here in Illinois," Duckworth said, advocating training to fill open manufacturing jobs.
She called for "serious investment in our infrastructure," to create jobs and spur the economy, as well as an "investment effort to replace lead pipes," to address lead-poisoning fears in Flint, Mich., and here in Chicago Public Schools.
Duckworth maintained her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal negotiated by the Obama administration and still pending in Congress. She said stronger country-of-origin labeling and strictures against currency manipulation could make the trade pact acceptable.
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