Sen. Tammy Duckworth defends her patriotism, Tucker Carlson's right to free speech

Carlson and Trump had attacked the veteran, who lost both legs in Iraq.

July 10, 2020, 5:23 PM

In the latest bout in the ongoing feud between Sen. Tammy Duckworth and right-leaning TV personality and Fox News host and commentator Tucker Carlson, Duckworth penned an op-ed in The New York Times on Thursday, defending all Americans’ right to freedom of speech and opinion, including Carlson’s.

"Even knowing how my tour in Iraq would turn out, even knowing that I’d lose both my legs in a battlefield just north of Baghdad in late 2004, I would do it all over again," Duckworth wrote in the op-ed. "Because if there’s anything that my ancestors’ service taught me, it’s the importance of protecting our founding values, including every American’s right to speak out. In a nation born out of an act of protest, there is nothing more patriotic than standing up for what you believe in, even if it goes against those in power."

PHOTO: Sen. Tammy Duckworth leaves the U.S. Captiol on Jan. 22, 2020, in Washington.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth leaves the U.S. Captiol on Jan. 22, 2020, in Washington.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, FILE

Carlson attacked Duckworth Monday night, saying she and other Democratic leaders "despise this country" and "actually hate America" after Duckworth told CNN on Sunday that there should be "a national dialogue" surrounding the founding fathers’ legacies -- many of whom, George Washington included, enslaved Black Americans.

Duckworth responded to Carlson on Monday night, tweeting that the Fox News host should "walk a mile in my legs." Duckworth is a war veteran, who lost both of her legs while serving in Iraq and now uses a wheelchair and prosthetic legs. She has a Purple Heart for her service, and now represents Illinois in the Senate.

In her op-ed published Thursday, Duckworth noted that her ancestors fought alongside then-General George Washington in the Revolutionary War, and that she would do anything to protect both statues erected in his honor and an American’s right to criticize them.

"But while I would risk my own safety to protect a statue of his from harm, I’ll fight to my last breath to defend every American’s freedom to have his or her own opinion about Washington’s flawed history," Duckworth wrote, noting that she never said -- nor does she believe -- a statue of George Washington should be pulled down.

Duckworth writes that for the United States to be a more perfect union, Americans must learn from past mistakes, "and in order to do so, we cannot whitewash our missteps and mistakes," she wrote.

PHOTO: In this March 2, 2017, file photo, Tucker Carlson, host of "Tucker Carlson Tonight," poses for photos in a Fox News Channel studio, in New York.
In this March 2, 2017, file photo, Tucker Carlson, host of "Tucker Carlson Tonight," poses for photos in a Fox News Channel studio, in New York.
Richard Drew/AP, FILE

Carlson's comments were compounded by the fact that, on Tuesday, President Donald Trump tweeted a clip of Carlson’s show, and Scott O’Grady, co-chair of Veterans for Trump, along with Patrick Brady, a Medal of Honor recipient, released a statement saying Duckworth is "using her military service... to villainize America’s founding."

This is not the first time Trump has attacked a veteran. He has a history of challenging the patriotism of military leaders, especially those who challenge him.

Trump argued in 2015 on the campaign trail that Sen. John McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, was not a war a hero.

"He was a war hero because he was captured," Trump said. "I like people who weren’t captured."

During the war, McCain was offered an early release but refused the offer because it would have meant leaving before other prisoners of war.

In July 2016, Trump called retired four-star General John Allen a "failed general." That same month he attacked the family of Capt. Humayun Khan, a slain soldier and Bronze Star awardee. Khan's father, Khizr Khan, had spoken out against Trump during the Democratic convention and supported Hillary Clinton in 2016.

PHOTO: In this Aug. 5, 2016, file photo, then-Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Iowa Events Center, in Des Moines, Iowa.
In this Aug. 5, 2016, file photo, then-Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Iowa Events Center, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Steve Pope/Getty Images, FILE

In August 2019, Trump called Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton, another Bronze Star awardee who served as a marine in Iraq, a "coward" after he ended his presidential campaign. Moulton said he would campaign for whomever the Democratic nominee would be, which is now Joe Biden. Two months later, Trump called his former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a retired four-star general, "the world's most overrated general." This comment came after Mattis publicly contradicted Trump's wishes to quickly pull troops out of the Middle East.

And as recently as February, Trump attacked Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, who testified before the House in its impeachment inquiry expressing concern about the president's alleged quid quo pro.

In a tweet, Trump said Vindman "had problems with judgement, adhering to the chain of command and leaking information."

Duckworth, a possible vice-presidential contender who could run on the ticket with Biden, wrote in the op-ed that she will continue to fight for her country, despite attacks from powerful men like Carlson and Trump.

The attacks "will never diminish my love for this country — or my willingness to sacrifice for it so they don’t have to," she wrote. "These titanium legs don’t buckle."

PHOTO: In this March, 25, 2019, file photo, Senator Tammy Duckworth speaks in Washington, DC.
In this March, 25, 2019, file photo, Senator Tammy Duckworth speaks in Washington, DC.
Michael Brochstein/Sopa Images/LightRocket via Getty Images, FILE

The attacks against her patriotism and service have echoes of those against former Democratic Sen. John Kerry during his 2004 presidential bid. While he was running, the so-called "Swift Boat" attack was made against him, a reference to the boats the U.S. military used in Vietnam. The attack questioned his service during that conflict, for which he earned a Purple Heart. Those accusations against Kerry have since been discredited and proven false.

Trump, unlike Duckworth, has never served in the military in any capacity. He received five military deferments — one for bone spurs, and four for education — during the Vietnam War. Carlson has also never served in the military.

In the op-ed, Duckworth implies that she believes that Carlson and Trump have continued to focus and attack her patriotism to distract from bigger issues -- the fact that now over 133,000 Americans have died from complications due to COVID-19, or the fact that Trump has not yet addressed claims that Russia put bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan.

Carlson's comments are often incendiary. In 2018, he lost advertisers after saying certain immigrants make "our own country poorer and dirtier and more divided.” More recently, after protests following the death of George Floyd began across the country, Carlson casted doubt on the Black Lives Matter movement and its purpose, which caused companies such as the Walt Disney Company, Papa John’s, Poshmark and T-Mobile to pull advertisements from his show, the "Tucker Carlson Show."

Even Fox News attorney Erin Murphy has argued Carlson isn't giving his viewers the facts. Amid a defamation lawsuit filed by Karen McDougal because Carlson allegedly accused her of extortion, Murphy asked the judge, "Would a reasonable viewer be coming here and thinking this is where I’m going to be hearing the news of the day?"

Duckworth, however, did not focus on Carlson and instead turned her attention to President George Washington, recognizing his imperfections but relying on his words of wisdom in this particularly divisive moment in American history.

"He also urged Americans to ‘guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism’ and be wary of excessive partisanship," she wrote.

Finishing where she started, Duckworth highlighted the importance of the country’s First Amendment. Without explicitly mentioning every American’s right to free speech, she writes that what makes this country "great" is everyone’s right to question those who lead.

"Remember that part of what has always made America not just great but good is that every American has the right to question those in charge," Duckworth later continued. "Anyone claiming to stand up for 'patriotic' values should recognize that, because, without it, the country these impostor patriots claim to love so much would not exist."

Duckworth concluded by looking ahead to the 2020 election.

"So while I would put on my old uniform and go to war all over again to protect the right of Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump to say offensive things on TV and Twitter, I will also spend every moment I can from now until November fighting to elect leaders who would rather do good for their country than do well for themselves," she wrote.

ABC News' Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.