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Senator Mark Kirk Committee Assignments

Democrat Tammy Duckworth said she was "ready to go" on Tuesday after being sworn in as the second female U.S. senator from Illinois.

"I got through the holidays, got through the transition (from House to Senate) shut down my House office, moved over, got my committee assignments and am really anxious to get to work for Illinois," Duckworth said after taking an oath of office administered by Vice President Joe Biden.

Duckworth, of Hoffman Estates, served two terms in the House before winning the Senate seat by beating incumbent Republican Mark Kirk on Nov. 8. She was accompanied to the swearing-in ceremony by Sen. Dick Durbin, who is No. 2 in the Senate Democratic leadership.

Duckworth, who lost her legs in combat during the Iraq War, held a cane and clutched Durbin's left arm as she approached Biden. Her husband, Bryan Bowlsbey, and daughter, Abigail, 2, watched from the Senate gallery, where the girl sparkled in a pink tutu, white top and silver shoes.

Duckworth was one of seven new senators and 27 re-elected senators sworn in to office by Biden. She and Durbin will be in the minority as the Republican Party kept control of both houses of Congress and will soon also control the White House following the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump on Jan. 20.

Republicans maintained control of the Senate despite losing two seats in November. The Senate now has 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats.

The only other woman Illinois has sent to the Senate was Carol Moseley Braun, who served from 1993 to 1999.

Following the official swearing-in, Duckworth took part in a re-enactment ceremony in the Old Senate Chamber and then a private affair with friends and relatives, including her mother, Lamai Duckworth. The second oath was administered by Judge Jack Farley, a Vietnam War amputee who earlier was on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

Duckworth and Farley met at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2004 after Duckworth, a Black Hawk helicopter pilot, was admitted with grave injuries, including two amputated legs and a badly injured arm. Farley administered the oath to Duckworth in 2009 when she became an assistant secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Aaron P. Bernstein / Getty Images

"A dear friend and mentor over the years," she called him.

Swearing to support and defend the Constitution is something Duckworth has done many times, both in the military and as a member of the House. She said Tuesday's ceremonies had her reliving past chapters. "I mean my entire adult life, I've had the same opportunity to swear to protect and defend the Constitution and serve my nation," she said.

As a senator, Duckworth will serve on four committees, one of them the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. That panel will hold a confirmation hearing for Republican Todd Ricketts, the Chicago Cubs' co-owner who has been designated by Trump to be deputy commerce secretary.

Duckworth said she had met Ricketts socially and would judge his nomination on its merits.

She also will serve on the Environment and Public Works, Energy and Natural Resources, and Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees.

She said if Trump plans new investments in infrastructure, the Environment and Public Works Committee will have input. The Energy Committee seat will let her work on renewable energy and nuclear power issues, she said.

Last fall, Duckworth had a two-day orientation to the Senate. Asked the best advice she's been given, she said it was to "ask other, more senior members for help from both sides of the aisle. It's very collegial. If you're not sure, there's no such thing as a dumb question."

Members of the House also took the oath as the 115th Congress opened. Illinois is represented by 11 Democrats and seven Republicans.

The delegation includes a new arrival, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg, and returning member Rep. Brad Schneider of Deerfield. Both are Democrats.

Krishnamoorthi took Duckworth's old seat in the 8th Congressional District. Schneider, who was in the House from 2013 to 2015, represents the 10th Congressional District.

Krishnamoorthi, who was born in India and came to the U.S. as a child, is the first Indian-American to represent Illinois in the House. He said he was humbled and honored to take the oath, saying he came to fight for the middle class, "so now my journey begins."

Schneider's old rival, Republican Bob Dold of Kenilworth, was chosen speaker pro tempore for the final minutes of the now-ended 114th Congress. The two have run against each other three times.

Schneider said he's hearing there may be a fourth matchup since Republicans including Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the House majority whip, are "trying to recruit" Dold to run in 2018. Two Dold campaign officials did not reply to a Tribune request for comment on that.

kskiba@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @KatherineSkiba

Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk already had a very tough road to reelection this fall—and he made it harder for himself with an indelicate comment about his opponent’s Thai heritage.

At one point in the debate, Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth, Kirk’s opponent, said her family had “served this nation in uniform going back to the Revolution.” Duckworth, a U.S. Army veteran, lost both her legs while serving in Iraq.

“I’ve bled for this nation. But I still want to be there in the Senate when the drums of war sound, because people are quick to sound the drums of war and I want to be there to say this is what it costs and this is what you’re asking us to do,” she said. “And if that’s the case, I’ll go. It’s families like mine that bleed first. But let’s make sure that the American people understand what we are engaging in and let’s hold our allies accountable because we can’t do it all.”

Kirk responded by bringing up Duckworth’s Thai heritage. Duckworth’s mother is from Thailand, but her late father was an American and a Marine Corps veteran.

“I forgot that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington,” he replied.

Kirk, first elected to the Senate in 2010, is considered perhaps the most endangered Republican incumbent on the ballot this fall.

Duckworth’s campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee immediately denounced Kirk’s remark, with DSCC spokeswoman Lara Sisselman calling it “offensive, wrong and racist.”

“A struggling campaign is no excuse for baseless and despicable acts,” she continued. “And Senator Kirk owes Congresswoman Duckworth and her family an apology.” 

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