tv The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations Bloomberg June 16, 2021 9:00pm-9:30pm EDT
♪ david: this is my kitchen table and also my filing system. over much of the past three decades, i have been an investor. the highest calling of mankind, i've often thought, was private equity. [laughter] and then i started interviewing. i watched your interviews, so i know how to do some interviewing. [laughter] i learned from doing interviews how leaders make it to the top. >> i asked him how much he wanted. he said 250. i said, fine.
i did not negotiate with him. i did no due diligence. david: i have something i would like to sell. [laughter] and how they stay there. you don't feel inadequate being only the second wealthiest man in the world, is that right? senator tammy duckworth chose to become an army national guard helicopter pilot and did so in iraq. when her helicopter was shot down, she lost the use of her legs and got elected to the united states senate after serving in the obama administration. she's the mother of two young children and is happily engaged in being the life of a united states senator. we are going to be in conversation with senator tammy duckworth, who is a senator from illinois and has an extraordinary life story and extraordinary book now out about her life in asia, her life in the united states and her life in iraq and life in the senate, among other things. thank you so much for joining us. sen. duckworth: thank you for having me. david: did you expect growing up in asia that he would one day be
a united states senator, a blackhawk pilot in iraq and considered to be vice president of the united states? was that ever in your dreams growing up as a young girl in thailand? sen. duckworth: heck no. [laughter] it was not even in my dreams 20 months ago. my childhood dream was to become an ambassador. i wanted to join the foreign service and spend time stamping people's passports. david: for those who have not read the book, and i highly recommend they do, your mother is from a chinese-thai background. you were born in thailand. your mother is a thai, but from chinese ancestry. and your father was an american service man. sen. duckworth: our family has been here since the duckworths showed up as indentured servants to the british. david: and they fought in the revolutionary war? sen. duckworth: they fought before that, they fought in the french and indian war.
we suspect they were volunteered by their lords. david: you were born in thailand and you grew up there, was it difficult? you are the product of mixed race and there is some discrimination. did you feel that discrimination when you were growing up? young children would say your father is an american? or was that not a problem? sen. duckworth: i am biracial and i think a lot of biracial folks will understand what i'm talking about when they read the book, but i did not fit in because i was half white. when i was in asia, i was seen as half white. when i come to the u.s. on the mainland, i'm seen as more asian. it is a unique patient experience to always be considered an "other." you see that with the aapi experience today. when i was in asia, my thai cousins would make fun of me and call me names and all sorts of stuff.
that was a common experience in southeast asia. david: your father had a hard time finding a job, so in the end you had to live on food stamps and had to get a job for yourself. you were selling roses on the streets and other things in hawaii, is that right? sen. duckworth: yes, we ended up on food stamps. thank goodness for the school lunch and subsidized meal programs, otherwise my brother and i would not have eaten many days. it was desperation at 16, even though my dad forbade me at school, i went and got a job and i did everything from handing out flyers. i had to on the moment decide whether the person would get a booze cruise flyer or dinner cruise flyer. i got a nickel for every one that was brought back to buy a ticket. i did whatever i could to scrape together money so we could eat.
david: you went to the university of hawaii, is that right? sen. duckworth: when i finished that, i returned to my childhood dream of becoming an ambassador. i moved to washington dc to attend george washington university in the international affairs program. at the time, gw had the highest successful pass rate for the foreign service exam, so i applied there. david: when you came to washington, you went to gw. did you say i'm going to be a united states senator? sen. duckworth: no. what i wanted to do was become a foreign service officer. i will take the foreign service exam. i in the meantime got a job at the smithsonian. there was an asian student fellowship. i won the fellowship. i was working in the natural history museum when my boss said you should get a phd and you should think about moving to illinois and attend northern illinois university.
david: you did apply, you got there and it changed your life. while you were there, why did you decide to join the military? sen. duckworth: my friends in my classes were military officers or veterans. they said, why don't you go off to basic training? you'll earn a little bit of money for the summer. you won't spend it because there is no way the drill sergeants will give you time to spend the money you earn. you will come home, you will know more about the military. you want to become a diplomat, you should learn more about military power. i thought yeah, why don't i do that? david: why did you decide you wanted to be a helicopter pilot? why did you not say i will take an easier job? sen. duckworth: i thought i was going to become a linguist. i spoke thai and studied french. i was getting ready to be commissioned, you write down what you would like to do in the
army and the army decides what they want you to do. i remember sitting in the classroom as the only woman in my rotc unit when the instructor said you can write down whatever you want, but whatever the army needs is what you're going to do. you have to put down combat jobs even if you are an accounting major and you want to become a finance officer. you can put down your request to become a finance officer, but you still have to put down infantry, armor or artillery. a certain percentage of your choices must be combat positions. he called me out specifically, except for duckworth. women are not allowed in combat,
so duckworth put down whatever you want. i remember thinking this was inherently unfair, not for me but for the guys. i was going to get equal pay for an equal rank, but the fact that i did not have to face the same risk was wrong. i realized women could serve in the air defense artillery and aviation, with helicopter pilots being the most likely combat job for women. i took the aptitude test and scored off the charts and that's how i became a helicopter pilot. david: you have learned how to be a helicopter pilot, but there is no need for you go to into iraq. you actually volunteered. you said i want to go into combat and fly helicopters in iraq. isn't that unusual? sen. duckworth: what i said is my unit cannot go off to war without me. i had just finished a three year stint in command of my blackhawk unit. i just finished being their commander. i was their commander all
through 9/11. i have been preparing knowing once 9/11 happened, i was likely to go to war. i always thought it would be in afghanistan. i knew the unit would eventually go. one month after i was rotated out of my command position, the unit was called out and that's when i called the battalion commander and said i cannot be the only army navy aviator in the national guard standing safely at the headquarters waving goodbye, i am going to go. how can you take me? david: what did your husband and mother say when you said i'm going to combat? sen. duckworth: my husband understood, because he's a soldier. mom did not understand. i told her, mom, i have to do this. my dad not say much, but he understood. he did not question me. he was a career military officer as well. david: how do you go from crashing a helicopter, getting pulled out of that and get
1 you get over to iraq, and you are flying blackhawks over there and there was a mission to pick up somebody, but you did not have to go on that mission. it was not an essential mission, is that correct? sen. duckworth: no we did not have to. it was on our way back from the mission where we were hit. david: you did not have to be in iraq and you did not have to accept that mission. you were hit by an rpg, is that right? sen. duckworth: yes, we were hit by small arms fire outside my right door.
i swore and just as i reached forward to store the target on our gps, there was a big explosion on my lap where the rpg basically came up and landed on my lap and exploded. david: the pilot is trying to land despite the fact that it is in trouble. he does manage to land it, but your legs were blown off. is that essentially what happened? sen. duckworth: the cockpit was filled with smoke. i did not know i didn't have legs. throughout the day, you feel your feet. you don't look down to see if they are there or not. i felt my feet. i kept trying to fly the aircraft not knowing i was an
actual fact passing in and out of consciousness. i would come to, try to fly the aircraft, pass out. i was frustrated that the aircraft was not responding to the inputs i was putting into the instruments, into the flight controls. but that's because i did not have legs. david: how did you go from crashing a helicopter, get pulled out of that and get another helicopter to pick you up and get to the doctors within an hour? sen. duckworth: first off, we did not crash, which is good. we landed it.
dan landed the aircraft. that was critical. we always fly with two aircraft together for instances like this so you always have a backup to help you out if you get in trouble. and then they came back for what they thought was my body. i never received any first aid. they assumed i was dead. they got me out of there just so they would bring a body back for my family to bury. david: they get you out and get you to the medical treatment facility and they try to keep you alive. what did they do to keep you alive? sen. duckworth: the first thing that happens is my door gunner on the right and crew chief and the rescue bird realizes i'm still alive because he sees more and more blood on the deck of the aircraft and he realizes that he has a tourniquet on. no one should be bleeding, so why is there more blood? tammy's heart is still pumping. he declines treatment from the medevac bird and says go take care of her. david: you are on morphine and other drugs, and when you wake up, when do you realize that you have lost your legs and maybe the use of your right arm?
sen. duckworth: i knew that i was wounded, but i also knew that i was safe. i was in excruciating pain. i asked my husband to ask the doctors if i can some tylenol because my feet really hurt and that's when he had to go out and get the doctor and the two of them came in and told me. there was no tylenol they could give me for my feet because i didn't have feet anymore. in fact, i didn't have legs. my arm was encased is what is called a metal cage. they kept it pretty covered so i could not see it because it was pretty badly mangled. i would potentially lose that arm. david: as if everything we have talked about isn't amazing, you decided you wanted to go back to iraq as a helicopter pilot again. sen. duckworth: my guys were still over there. my unit was still downrange. i felt tremendous guilt that i was in a safe hospital in the united states and everybody was calling me a hero, which i did not think i was. everybody was treating me with kid gloves and my buddies were still getting shot at. no soldier, no servicemember, troop wants to be safe somewhere when your buddies are still in harm's way. i just wanted to get back to my unit. david: you eventually retire from the military and then you get involved in a number of very
interesting things. you became the head of the veterans organization in illinois, is that right? sen. duckworth: but i did not retire. president bush started a program that allowed wounded warriors to continue to serve and then i ran for congress and lost. then i became the head of the illinois department of veterans affairs. a member of his cabinet and when when president obama was elected asked me to serve as the va. i ran again for congress and became a congresswoman in 2012. david: then an opportunity came along to run for the united states senate. did you hesitate and say i have a safe seat, or did you say no, i really want to do this? sen. duckworth: i was on maternity leave with my oldest daughter in 2014. illinois's primary is very early. it is in march. i had to make a decision by march of 2015 if i wanted to run for senate. i was due on maternity leave. i thought i am not going to run for senate. but then i looked and realized that should i ever want to run for the u.s. senate, this was the opportunity. i took the chance. ♪
♪ david: let's talk about the united states senate. is it pleasurable to be united states senator? it seems like they are always fighting, they don't have compromises. is it enjoyable or not quite as enjoyable as you hoped? sen. duckworth: it's challenging, but i love my job because of what i get to do. it's a tough job, but i get to serve the people, my constituency. i get to see the results of my work. i passed legislation that now requires lactation rooms in all of our nation's airports because when i had my daughter and i was traveling i was told if you want to breast-feed your daughter you
have to do it in the handicapped stall of a public toilet, which i thought was disgusting. i worked for a few years and passed the law. now when i go to airports, i see these lactation rooms and think wow, i did that. i just made all these moms who are traveling and working outside their home, i just made their lives a little bit easier. that's a great privilege. it's a great privilege to be able to represent my state and my constituents believed in me enough to do this job. it is tough. i will not kid you. it is a lot of work. there is no work/life balance. i am not senator enough when i am with my kids and when i am at work i don't think i am mom enough.
david: you have been a leader in the environmental area. do you think we are making progress on climate change or do you think we are still way behind where we should be? sen. duckworth: we are significantly behind where we should be. i am glad that as soon as he was sworn into office, the first thing president biden did was rejoin the paris accord. i thought that was significant. what i think we should do is have a date for a carbon neutral future. then let the market get us there and be an "all of the above" policy in terms of how we get there. we will have to look at a range of energy sources to get to carbon neutral. who cares as long as you get to carbon neutral? david: there have been a lot of attacks on asian americans in the united states recently, physical attacks among other things. when you were growing up, when you were in the united states, did you suffer discrimination or attacks? what do you think can be done to ameliorate this problem? sen. duckworth: i think most asians have this sense of otherness and of course i felt that here on the mainland united states. i did not feel that so much in hawaii, where that is a majority minority population there. on the mainland, certainly.
i have had americans come up to me and say things to me like where are you really from? even while i was wearing our nation's uniform with our american flag on my shoulder and u.s. army on my chest over my heart. the most ridiculous questions like, what do you mean where am i from? i am american just like you are. that is almost uniquely and an aapi experience. if you talk to any asian american, they will tell you that has happened to them. david: not too long ago, president biden when he was former vice president considered you to be vice president on his ticket. any disappointment you were not selected? would you ever consider running for president yourself? sen. duckworth: no, no regrets i was not selected. it was an interesting process to go through. i'm glad i went through the vetting process.
i am very pleased i made it pretty far in the process, but i've got to say that i'm really happy being a u.s. senator. [laughter] i have more control over my schedule, over what i want to do and i could not be happier. i hope to stay in the senate for a very long time. david: since president biden has been president, has he called you for advice? do you go to the oval office? i assume you go more than under president trump? sen. duckworth: i did not get to go at all under president trump and i had never been to the oval office until president biden became president. i have actually had two visits in two weeks just last month in april. he asked me to join him for a discussion on manufacturing in the u.s. and i have worked a lot on the renaissance of manufacturing from the midwest. illinois is a major manufacturing state.
we have more tool and dye manufacturing than many other parts of the country. we are number one and number two depending on who has the biggest order that week. i also was there for a meeting on aapi representation and issues of hate crimes against aapi. i had multiple trips there already. david: the life of a senator is one where you are in the senate during the week, but typically weekends or every other weekend you have to go back to illinois and you have to go meet with constituents and so forth. then you have two young children, your husband. how do you have time for almost anything? sen. duckworth: i don't. i'm either at work or i am doing something with my kids. you make it work. in the book, i talk about how senator gillibrand gave me really good advice to set some boundaries. i have some boundaries that i have set up that we don't mess with. i have also asked my colleagues to abide by them and have come to respect them and they have been very supportive. for example, i don't take meetings in person before 9:30 a.m. because i put my daughter
on the school bus. i get her to school. her school starts at 9:00. this has all changed during covid, obviously. but my goal is, i am the one who would drive my daughter to school. that is my time with her. if i have to be in illinois or california or wherever else or singapore or iraq, i will catch the redeye and stay up all night long as i make it home so i can be here to take my daughter to school. david: you can see obviously from talking to you and reading your book you have a very outgoing personality. you had a tragic situation in your life. how do you maintain such a friendly outlook? do you regret going to iraq? how do you put that in perspective for people who have not suffered as much as you have? sen. duckworth: i do not regret going to iraq. it is one of the proudest things i have done in my life. as a soldier, when you are called to serve, you go. for me, it has always been about looking out for the best of things and i have always had kind of a wry sense of humor. it is sort of an army aviation,
dry, just being able to laugh at yourself and make the best of it. for me to look back with regret and feel bad about having been in iraq would have been a real slap in the face to the men who saved me. i am not going to do that. they gave me the gift of life that day. i owe them to live the best life i can every day. david: have you ever thought of bottling your happiness? you could make a lot of money if you bottled your happiness. sen. duckworth: it is gratefulness. i should have died in iraq. that day in iraq is my northstar and those men who saved my life are my northstar. even in the toughest of times, even when i just think this is crazy, like january 6 with the