[Updated at 6:05 p.m. ET] An Illinois congressman has stuck to his guns – including during a testy interview with CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield this week – in a flap over his assertions that his double-amputee election opponent talks too much about her military service and war injuries.
Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Illinois, has said that the story has been blown out of proportion, arguing that it has been manufactured by liberal opponents who recorded his comments at a campaign event Sunday and then posted them on the Internet, with liberal website ThinkProgress.org starting the coverage.
But he’s defended his stance, arguing that Democrat Tammy Duckworth – a Black Hawk helicopter pilot who lost both legs when her crew was shot down in Iraq in 2004 – rarely makes campaign appearances in her bid to defeat him in Illinois’ 8th Congressional District. When she does, he said, she talks mostly about her background fighting overseas.
We’d like to hear what you think about the issue. First, here’s how it played out this week.
In a Sunday campaign event in a Chicago suburb, Walsh was recalling the 2008 presidential campaign of Republican Sen. John McCain, saying McCain was modest about his background as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. Walsh said McCain was reluctant to make that story a focus of his campaign, despite pressure from advisers to do otherwise.
“That's what's so noble about our heroes. Now I'm running against a woman who, my God, that's all she talks about," Walsh said. "Our true heroes, it's the last thing in the world they talk about. That's why we're so indebted and in awe of what they've done."
The comments spread online, and several groups, including VoteVets.org and Emily’s List, condemned Walsh’s remarks.
Walsh, elected in 2010 with support from the tea party, told CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blizter” on Wednesday that he believes Duckworth is a hero, but she gives voters a narrow window into her positions on political issues.
“She is a hero, and that demands our respect, but it doesn’t demand our vote. All she does, guys, is talk about her service,” Walsh said.
On Thursday, Walsh got into a heated back-and-forth with Banfield during an interview on CNN. After Banfield attempted to contradict Walsh’s allegation that Duckworth doesn’t talk about issues – she read a list of moments when Duckworth commented on things other than military service – Walsh responded:
“She spends a lot of time talking about her war service. I’ve asked her to debate me monthly. She won’t. I’ve asked her to get directly in front of voters with me. She won’t. She will not get in front of voters and take questions directly from voters. Because she’s a war hero, Ashleigh, that demands our respect. But that doesn’t demand our vote.”
While Walsh and Duckworth might not have debated frequently, they did debate on May 11. According to a Chicago Sun-Times account, Duckworth criticized the GOP’s federal budget proposal, accused Walsh of wanting to end Medicare and backed President Obama’s support of gay marriage, but she declined to answer a question about whether she would have supported the bank bailout of a few years ago.
Duckworth hasn't hidden her war service or injuries. She highlights them on her campaign website. After last week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the health care reform act, she referenced her injuries when discussing the act, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Walsh’s criticism of Duckworth isn’t new. Politico, on March 28, reported that he said this during a 30-minute interview: “I have so much respect for what she did in the fact that she sacrificed her body for this country. Ehhh. Now let’s move on.”
“What else has she done?” Walsh said, according to the March 28 Politico article. “Female, wounded veteran … ehhh. She is nothing more than a handpicked Washington bureaucrat. David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel just picked her up and dropped her into this district.”
Hitting back on Friday, Duckworth told CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer" that she discusses the issues "a majority of the time" and argued that Walsh was trying to "distract" voters away from his record in Congress.
"It's very irresponsible for Mr. Walsh, as a sitting congressman, to try to muzzle war veterans and keep them from talking about their service," Duckworth said.
Duckworth said during a Tuesday interview with MSNBC that Walsh had disrespected veterans and called him an "extremist loudmouth for the tea party." On Wednesday, she told CNN affiliate WLS that Walsh’s comments were “not even worth mentioning.”
This election year marks Duckworth's second run for Congress. The Iraq War veteran made an unsuccessful House bid in 2006, before being tapped by President Barack Obama in 2009 to become an assistant secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs. She is a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard.
The two candidates are fighting for a seat representing the new 8th Congressional District outside Chicago and created by the state's recent redistricting process.
– CNN's Ashley Killough contributed to this report.
What do you think of Walsh's stance? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.