In a Senate-floor speech Saturday, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) blasted President Trump as a “five-deferment draft dodger” and accused him of trying to bait North Korea into a war, putting both the military and the national security of the United States at risk.
It was a moment of fire for Duckworth, a veteran who lost both of her legs in 2004 while serving in the Iraq War, and who has advocated for military and disability issues since she was elected to national public office in 2012.
Duckworth said Saturday her speech was prompted by a tweet Trump had posted Saturday morning accusing Democrats of “holding our Military hostage” to have “unchecked illegal immigration.” The tweet was just one of many partisan attacks Trump launched over the weekend trying to blame Democrats for a congressional budget stalemate that had led to a shutdown of the federal government.
That Trump would accuse Democrats — like herself — of not caring about the military was galling, Duckworth said.
“Does he even know that there are service members who are in harm’s way right now, watching him, looking for their commander in chief to show leadership, rather than to try to deflect blame?” Duckworth said. “Or that his own Pentagon says that the short-term funding plans he seems intent on pushing is actually harmful to not just the military, but to our national security?”
The junior senator from Illinois said Trump’s attempts to pin the shutdown on Democrats, especially by using the military, were examples of the president failing to take responsibility.
“I spent my entire adult life looking out for the well-being, the training, the equipping of the troops for whom I was responsible,” Duckworth continued. “Sadly, this is something 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.”
Duckworth saved her zinger for the end, a dig at the medical reason Trump has claimed was why he was able to avoid military service for the fifth time.
“And I have a message for ‘Cadet Bone Spurs,’ ” Duckworth said. “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.”
Since Trump took office, he and Kim have repeatedly exchanged threats — and outright insults, at times — about each other’s nuclear arsenal. Trump has called Kim “Little Rocket Man” and a “madman.” In return, Kim has called Trump a “deranged U.S. dotard” and, most recently, a “lunatic” and a “loser.”
But the escalating rhetoric has also led many lawmakers and civilians to worry about the possibility of a war with North Korea. Last August, Trump issued an ultimatum to Pyongyang, saying North Korea would “face fire and fury like the world has never seen” if the country did not curb its threats to the United States. (The “fire and fury” phrase would later become the title of much-talked about book by author Michael Wolff allegedly exposing the inner workings of Trump’s White House.)
In all, North Korea launched 18 missile tests last year, and its continued defiance prompted the U.N. Security Council to impose strict sanctions on the country in December. Undeterred, North Korea said it would simply bolster its nuclear force and declared the U.N. sanctions “an act of war.”
On New Year’s Day, Kim bragged that he could attack the United States at any time using a nuclear button on his desk, but promised not to do so unless North Korea was threatened. In return, Trump tweeted that his “Nuclear Button” was “much bigger & more powerful” than Kim’s.
Perhaps nowhere have these heightened tensions played out more clearly than in Hawaii, where late last year state emergency officials reinstated its Cold War-era nuclear warning sirens amid growing fears of an attack by North Korea. Those fears spilled over last weekend when a state employee accidentally sent an alert to scores of Hawaii residents and tourists on their cellphones warning of a “ballistic missile threat inbound.”
The false warning sparked a wave of panic as thousands of people, many assuming they had only minutes to live, scrambled to seek shelter and say their final goodbyes to loved ones. The situation was exacerbated by a 38-minute gap between the initial alert and a subsequent wireless alert stating the missile warning was a mistake.
Though the false alarm was determined to be the result of human error, several lawmakers used the incident to highlight the situation with North Korea — and the consequences American citizens would face if not resolved. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) criticized Trump for not taking the threat of nuclear war seriously enough and urged him to engage North Korean leaders in serious negotiations to denuclearize.
Two days after the false alarm, fresh off a visit to South Korea and Japan, Duckworth also tweeted a warning against war, saying one in the Korean Peninsula would be “catastrophic.”
Duckworth’s Senate floor speech came nearly a year to the day after she spoke to a fired-up crowd at the Women’s March on Washington last January. She had showed up to the march wearing her “Don’t F with me” leather jacket, she said, and also brought along her then-2-year-old daughter.
“Yesterday, I gotta tell ya, I was pretty depressed,” Duckworth said at last year’s Women’s March, of the inauguration that had taken place the day before. “This is about our country. I didn’t shed blood to defend this nation [and] I didn’t give up literally parts of my body to have the Constitution trampled on . . . to have them roll back our rights.”