Freshman Rep. Joe Walsh, who has earned a reputation for caustic remarks and spontaneous tirades, this week accused opponent Tammy Duckworth–a double-amputee who lost her legs while serving as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot in Iraq–of using her military service to score political points.
The Illinois Republican on Wednesday chose not to back down from comments he made accusing his Democratic opponent of talking too much about her time in the Army.
“She is a hero, and that demands our respect, but it doesn’t demand our vote,” Walsh said Wednesday on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. “All she does, guys, is talk about her service.”
Walsh’s comments Wednesday followed on a speech Walsh made at a campaign event Sunday at which Walsh lauded Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, for his humility and refusal to talk candidly about his service.
“Now I’m running against a woman who, I mean– my God– that’s all she talks about,” Walsh told an audience in Elk Grove, Ill. “Our true heroes, the men and women who served us, it’s the last thing in the world they talk about.”
Walsh called the ensuing controversy over his remarks Sunday a “political ploy to distort my words and distract voters.”
Duckworth’s campaign disagreed.
“Congressman Walsh’s comments insult those who sacrificed to make this country free,” Duckworth campaign manager Kaitlin Fahey said in a statement Tuesday, just before the Independence Day holiday. ”Tammy is proud of her over twenty years of service with the Army and her family’s legacy of fighting for this country. We can’t recognize our servicemen and women enough and ask that we keep them in our thoughts during this holiday week.
Special interest groups and others have jumped to Duckworth’s defense.
This week’s comments were not the first time Walsh, a tea party Republican, has lobbed this type of criticism at Duckworth. His non-plussed discussion of Duckworth’s sacrifice during an interview with Politico in March drew fire.
Walsh frequently makes news for his blunt remarks. In May 2011, he angered voters with an op-ed in which he stated: “too many American Jews aren’t as pro-Israel as they should be.”
Around that time Walsh also attributed President Obama’s 2008 win to “white guilt” saying Obama being an articulate, black man made white voters feel better about themselves.
Last November, Walsh made headlines for issuing a tirade about financial regulation during a coffee meeting with constituents. “This pisses me off! Too many people don’t listen!” he shouted at a constituent, physically moving to get in her face. “You don’t have to scream at me, I’m not screaming at you,” the woman replied, mid-rant.
Walsh defended his behavior at that event in a statement which lauded his “passion” for bank regulation.
Duckworth was recruited for the suburban Chicago 8th District race after an unsuccessful 2006 run for the state’s 6th District seat, speaking engagements at the 2008 Democratic National Convention and service as Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The redrawn district leans Democratic, threatening Walsh’s hold on the seat.