February 13, 2022

Duckworth talks Ukraine, Supreme Court in Springfield interview

Source: Bloomington Pantagraph


SPRINGFIELD — U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth reiterated her support for imposing "very strong sanctions" against Russia should it invade Ukraine, but acknowledged that any diplomatic or economic pressure may not be enough to dissuade Russian President Vladimir Putin from such an action. 

"I obviously want diplomacy to work," Duckworth said. "And I think that we have applied every tool in our arsenal diplomatically. At this point, it has always been whether they truly want a diplomatic solution or whether they just want to annex Ukraine."

"I don't think he does," Duckworth said. "I think he wants the territory ... I think he wants to occupy Ukraine because he sees that as part of Russia."

The tense situation in Ukraine — the U.S. government has warned that Russia could invade at any time now — was among several topics Duckworth addressed in a wide-ranging interview with Lee Enterprises Saturday morning in Springfield.

Duckworth is seeking reelection to her second term this year. Four candidates have announced their intentions to challenge her: Republicans Timothy Arview, Peggy Hubbard and Bobby Piton, and Libertarian William Redpath.  

Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran who lost her legs and partial use of her right arm after her Blackhawk helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2004, said that "it's been very clear that the oligarchs around Putin have been significantly hurt by the sanctions and that they are not in favor of invading Ukraine."

Further sanctions could hit more than just oligarchs, with regular Russian citizens likely to feel the impact. U.S. lawmakers have been negotiating a package of sanctions for the past month, though news reports indicate that the process has hit a snag. President Joe Biden and the Pentagon have ruled out sending in American troops to defend Ukraine. 

"So I think that the sanctions will help, but I don't think this is a rational decision on the part of Putin in terms of he's going to do something that is in the economic interest of his people," Duckworth said. "I think he's willing to let the Russian people suffer economically because he wants this territory. I think it's a personal thing."

Either way, Duckworth predicted that Russia has about a two-week window to invade if they decide to mount a ground assault with tanks "because after that, the ground will start to thaw" in marshy Ukraine. 

"They need frozen ground," Duckworth said. "So I think we're right now at the point where Russia has to decide what they're going to do. And we put every bit of pressure we can on them. But ultimately, it's what Vladimir Putin wants to do."

Duckworth, first elected to the House in 2012 before her election to the Senate in 2016, also had infrastructure on her mind.

During her two-day swing in Central Illinois, she visited Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield to discuss resources for airports in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed by Biden in November. 

She later appeared with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in Normal to highlight the funds being directed to expand the country's electric vehicle charging infrastructure. 

"If you see sewers being fixed, bridges being fixed, railroad crossings getting taken care of or your kids have been able to go back to school, it's because Democrats passed the American Rescue Plan without a single Republican vote," Duckworth said. 

She added that she was proud of the bipartisan roll call on the infrastructure law that came later in the year, but pointed out that the only Illinois Republican to support it was Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon. 

"So when I go to Normal today and look at EV charging stations or here in Springfield and they talk about how they were able to get a couple million dollars to to work on one of the runways, what I say is, 'You better not have a single Republican who voted against that bill show up at that and take credit for it, because they voted against it,'" she said. 

Duckworth had harsh words for Republicans. Speaking on Abraham Lincoln's birthday, she said that the party no longer reflects the values of Illinois' favorite son. 

"It is no longer the party of Lincoln," Duckworth said. "I mean, it's not even the party of George Bush or Ronald Reagan."

"It's now a party of folks who think that an insurrection that destroyed the sacred Capitol of the United States, including the beating of police officers with the American flag, is legitimate political discourse," she said. "So I would ask folks who identify themselves as Republicans, are those your values?"

Still, a scan of Duckworth's website reveals several press releases touting initiatives with her Republican colleagues.

"I can have the conversation about the Republican Party's values with my Republican colleagues while I'm working to pass clean drinking water and wastewater," she said. "I got 89 votes on the floor of the Senate."

That legislation provides more than $35 billion for water resource development projects in the country through grant programs and revolving loan funds. 

Some other topics Duckworth addressed on Saturday:

Supreme Court

Duckworth applauded Biden's pledge to nominate a Black woman to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

Further, she said Vice President Kamala Harris called her last week to get her thoughts on the matter. 

"And I said, 'Well, I'm always going to put in my two cents for (Judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi) because she's a hometown pick," Duckworth said. "But really, any of the (judges) would be in any would be great."

Jackson-Akiwumi was nominated by Biden and confirmed by the Senate last year to serve on the Chicago-based United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. 

Diversity in Biden Administration 

Duckworth had tough words for Biden on the lack of Asian American representation in his administration, however. 

“Still have the same concerns," she said, referencing last March, when she threatened to oppose any administration nominees who were not racial minorities or LGBTQ.

"He's the first president in 20 years, Democrat or Republican, to not have a cabinet secretary who's Asian American — at a time when the Asian American population is the fastest growing population in the nation," Duckworth said. "It's wrong."

Duckworth backed down on her threat when the White House agreed to have a staffer with authority in place who could stand up to Biden on issues impacting the Asian American/Pacific Islander population, and when Biden agreed to have a meeting with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. He also agreed to nominate an Asian American cabinet secretary when an opportunity arises.

Biden has followed through on the first two, but there still isn't an Asian American cabinet member. 

Proudest accomplishment

Duckworth is viewed as a heavy favorite in her reelection bid — so much so, the Republican Party passed on the opportunity to recruit a serious challenger, unlike with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other statewide elected Democrats. 

Regarding her first-term record, Duckworth said she's most proud of securing a provision in the current fiscal year's National Defense Authorization Act that establishes a minimum inventory for C-130 fleet of aircrafts. This essentially secures the mission of the Peoria-based 182d Airlift Wing for years to come. 

She also cited the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 that passed 89-2 last year as a major accomplishment. 

"I think, overall, what I would say is I'm really proud of the breadth of things I've been able to do," Duckworth said. "I've tried to fix sewers and C-130s. And I hope that the people of Illinois know that I've delivered for them and I go to work every single day trying to make lives better for working families across the state."

By:  Brenden Moore