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tv   The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations  Bloomberg  July 24, 2021 1:00pm-1:30pm EDT

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♪ 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] then i started interviewing. i watched your interview. i know how to do some interviewing. i learned 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 them. i did no due diligence. i have something i would like to sell. [laughter]
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and how they stay there. you don't feel inadequate because you are only the second wealthiest man in the world, is that right? [laughter] ♪ one of the most interesting and optimistic leaders i've met is senator tammy duckworth. she grew up in poverty in thailand and hawaii but 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, ultimately recovered and got elected to the united states senate after serving in the obama administration. she is now the mother of two young children and is happily engaged in the life of being a united states senator. it's an incredible story. well today, 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 called "every day is a gift," about her life in asia, her life in the united states and her life in iraq and life in the senate, among other things. so, thank you so much for joining us, senator. sen. duckworth: it's so good to be on. thanks for having me. david: did you expect growing up in asia, in not a wealthy situation, that you would one
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day be a united states senator, a blackhawk pilot in iraq and then be considered to be vice president of the united states? was that ever in your dreams as a young girl growing up in thailand? sen. duckworth: heck no. it was not even in my dreams 20 months ago. [laughter] no, i wanted -- my childhood dream was to become an ambassador. i wanted to join the foreign service and spend my time stamping the back of people's passports. david: let's take you through your life story. for those who have not read the book, and i highly recommend they do, your mother is from a chinese-thai background. you grew up -- you were born in thailand. your mother is a thai, but from chinese ancestry. is that right? sen. duckworth: yes. david: and your father was an american service man. sen. duckworth: yep, and his family has been here since the first two duckworths showed up as indentured servants in the 1600s to a british lord. david: and they fought in the revolutionary war? sen. duckworth: they fought before that, they fought in the french and indian war.
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although we suspected they were volunteered by their lords. they probably did not volunteer themselves. [laughter] david: you were born in thailand and you grew up initially there. was it difficult, though? you are the product of mixed race you would say and there was obviously discrimination then -- as there is now -- did you think it was difficult? 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: it was a problem. 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 southeast asia because i was half white. when i was in asia, i was seen as half white. but then when i come to the u.s. on the mainland, i'm seen as more asian. so, it is a unique asian experience to always be considered to be an "other." and you really see that with the aapi experience today. but when i was in asia, my thai cousins would make fun of me and, you know, call me names and
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all sorts of stuff. but that was a common experience post vietnam 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 you also had to get a job for yourself. and you were selling roses on the streets and other things on the street in hawaii, is that right? sen. duckworth: yes, we ended up on food stamps. thank goodness for the school lunch and school breakfast, subsidized meal programs, otherwise my brother and i would not have eaten many days. in a certain point in time, i was out of desperation at 16, even though my dad forbade me because he wanted me to focus on school, i just went and got a job on the beaches of waikiki and i did everything from handing out flyers -- i had to choose between -- i write about this in the book -- i had to in the moment decide whether the person would get a booze cruise flyer or a romantic dinner cruise flyer. [laughter] i would get a nickel for every one that was brought back to buy a ticket.
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and then i also sold roses out of a bucket by the side of the road. i did whatever i could to scrape together money so that we could eat. david: you went to the university of hawaii, is that right? sen. duckworth: i went to the university of hawaii and when i finished that, i returned to my childhood dream of wanting to become an ambassador. and i moved to washington, d.c. to attend george washington university to enter the international affairs program. at the time, gw had the highest successful pass rate for the foreign service exam, so i applied there. david: so, when you came to washington, you went to gw to get your graduate degree. did you say, someday i'm going to be a united states senator? sen. duckworth: no. what i wanted to do was become a foreign service officer. i am going to take this foreign service exam. but i in the meantime got a job at the smithsonian. there was an asian student fellowship and i won the fellowship. and i was working in the natural history museum when my boss
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said, "you really should get a phd and you should really think about moving to illinois to attend northern illinois university." david: so, you did apply, you got in, you moved there, and it changed your life obviously. when you were there and studying, why did you decide to join the military? sen. duckworth: some of my friends in my classes were military officers or veterans. they said, you know, 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 are going to give you any free time to spend any of the money you earn. and you will come home, you will know more about the military. you want to become a diplomat, you should learn a little about military power. so i thought yeah, why don't i just go and go do that? david: so you joined the military, but why did you decide you wanted to be a helicopter pilot and a blackhawk helicopter pilot to boot? why did you not say i will take an easier job? sen. duckworth: i thought i was going to become a linguist, david. because i spoke thai and indonesian and i studied french through college.
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but while i was getting ready to be commission, you sat down and 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 it is the army needs, that's what you're going to do. so, guys, 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. except for duckworth. and he called me out specifically, except for duckworth. women are not allowed in combat, so duckworth, put down whatever you want. and i remember thinking this was just 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. in then, -- and then i did my
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research and i realized women could serve in the air defense artillery and in aviation, with helicopter pilots being the most likely combat job open to women. i put that down as my choice. i took the aptitude test and scored off the charts on it and that's how i became a helicopter pilot. david: so, you are in the army national guard and you have learned how to be a helicopter pilot, but there is no need for you to go to iraq. but you actually volunteered. you said i want to go into combat and i want to go fly helicopters in iraq. isn't that unusual? sen. duckworth: what i said is -- which is not unusual -- is my unit cannot go off to war without me. and i had just finished a three year stint in command of my blackhawk unit. the bravo company of the mad dogs. and i just finished being their commander. and i was their commander all through 9/11. and i had been preparing them for war knowing, knowing that once 9/11 happened, it was likely we would go to war. i always thought it would be in afghanistan. an so, -- and so, i knew the
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unit would eventually go. and one month after i was rotated out of my command position, the unit was called up and that's when i called the battalion commander and said, sir, i cannot be the only army navy aviator in the national -- in the illinois national guard standing safely at the headquarters waving goodbye. i am going to go. how can you take me? there is no way. and it is about being a part of the unit. david: what did your husband and your mother say when you said, i'm going off into combat. i don't have to, but i'm going to. sen. duckworth: my husband understood, because he's a soldier as well. mom, of course, did not understand. i told her, mom, i have to do this. this is what i'm supposed to do. my dad not say much, but he understood. he did not question me. you know, he was a career military officer as well. david: so, how did you go from crashing a helicopter, getting pulled out of that and get another helicopter to pick you up and get to the doctors within an hour? how did that all happen? sen. duckworth: they got me out
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there just so that they would bring a body back to my family to bury. ♪
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david: so 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. and it was on our way back from the mission heading back when we were hit. david: you did not have to be in iraq and you did not have to accept that mission. but you did both of those things. and then you were hit by an rpg, is that right? sen. duckworth: yes, we were hit first by small arms fire outside my right door. i swore in my good army language, and just as i reached forward to store the target on our gps, there was a big explosion in my lap where the
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rpg basically came up through the chin bubble and landed on my lap and exploded. david: so the pilot is trying to land it, 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: so, the cockpit was filled with smoke. i did not know i didn't have legs. you know, 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 in actual fact passing in and out of consciousness. i would come to, try to fly the aircraft, pass out. come to, try to fly the aircraft, pass out. and i was very 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 doctors within an hour? how did that all happen? sen. duckworth: first off, we
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did not crash, which is good. [laughs] we landed it. dan milburg landed the aircraft. and that was critical. we always fly with two aircraft together for instances exactly like this so you always have a backup to help you out if you get in trouble. then they came back for what they thought was my body. so, i never received a tourniquet. i never received any first aid. they assumed that 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, in effect, a medical treatment facility and they try to keep you alive. and what did they do to keep you alive during that period of time? sen. duckworth: the first thing that happens is sergeant chris pierce, who is my door gunner on the right side and my 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? he realized, oh, my god. tammy is still bleeding. her heart is still pumping. he declines treatment from the
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medevac bird, when we get put in the medevac aircraft. when the medic comes to him, he says, go take care of her. david: when you get to walter reed, 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, i knew that i was hurt, but i also knew that i was safe. and i was in excruciating pain. and i asked my husband to ask the doctor 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. and my arm was encased in what is like a metal cage. it was kept immobile. they kept it pretty covered so i could not see it because it was pretty badly mangled. and that 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
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iraq as a helicopter pilot again. sen. duckworth: my guys were still over there. my unit was still downrange. and 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, and everybody was treating me with kid gloves and my buddies were still getting shot at? that is -- no soldier, no servicemember, no troop wants to be safe someplace when your buddies are still in harm's way. and 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. to go through them quickly, you became the head of the veterans organization in illinois, is that right? sen. duckworth: yes, but i did not retire. i actually -- president bush started a program that allowed wounded warriors to continue to serve and then i ran for congress and lost. and then i became the head of the illinois department of veterans affairs.
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a member of the governor's cabinet and then, president obama, when he was elected, asked me to serve at the va. all this time, i was still in the national guard. and then i ran again for congress and became a congresswoman, winning in 2012. david: then an opportunity came along to run for the united states senate. did you hesitate and say, geez, i lost once running for congress, i have a safe seat now, or did you say no, i really want to do this? sen. duckworth: i very much hesitated. i was actually on maternity leave with my oldest daughter. i had her in november of 2014. and illinois' primary is very early. it is in march and so i had to make a decision, an announcement by march of 2015 if i wanted to run for senate. and so i was still on maternity leave. i didn't want -- i thought i am not going to run for senate. i just had this baby, i am on maternity leave, but then i
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looked at it and i realized that should i ever want to run for the united states senate, this was the time to run, this was the opportunity. and so i took the chance. ♪
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david: let's talk about the united states senate. is it pleasurable to be a united states senator? it seems like they are always fighting, they don't have compromises, and nothing is done bipartisan anymore. 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. and 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 or you want to express breast milk, you have to do it in the handicapped stall of a public toilet, which i thought was disgusting. so i worked for a few years and passed the law. now when i go to airports, i see these lactation pods and 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. and that's a great privilege. it's a great privilege to be
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able to represent my state and that my constituents believed in me enough to do this job. and so, it is tough. i am not going to kid you. it is tough. it is a lot of work. there is no work/life balance. i never feel like 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 for my kids. but it ain't a bad gig. 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 to rejoin the paris accord. i thought that was significant. what i think we should do is have a date for a carbon neutral future. and then let the market get us there and be an "all of the above," you know, policy in terms of how we get there. and we are going to have to look at a range of energy sources to get to carbon neutral. but as far as i'm concerned, who
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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. so, when you were growing up, did you suffer -- when you were in the united states, did you suffer discrimination or attacks, anything like this? and 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, especially here on the mainland u.s. i did not feel that so much in hawaii, where that is a majority minority population there. on the mainland, certainly. i mean, 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? [laughs] i am from here. i am american just like you are. that is almost uniquely an asian american -- aapi experience. if you talk to any asian
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american, they will tell you that has happened to them. david: now, not too long ago, president biden, when he was former vice president of the united states, considered you to be vice president on his ticket. and i am just curious, any disappointment you were not selected? and would you ever consider running for president yourself? sen. duckworth: oh my gosh -- you know, 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] and i have more control over my schedule, over what i want to do and really, i couldn't be happier. i hope to stay in the senate for a very long time. david: so, since president biden has been president, has he called you for advice? do you get to see him very much? do you go to the oval office? i assume you go more than under president trump? sen. duckworth: yes. i did not get to go at all under president trump and in fact, i had never been to the oval office until president biden became president.
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i have actually had two visits in two weeks just last month in april. so i was there. he asked me to join him for a discussion on manufacturing in the united states -- i have worked a lot on the renaissance of manufacturing from the midwest. illinois is a major manufacturing state. we have more tool and die manufacturers 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. so yes, 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. and then you have got two young children, your husband. i mean, how do you have time for almost anything? sen. duckworth: i don't. i just -- i'm either at work or i am doing something with my
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kids. you know, you just -- you make it work. in the book, i talk about how senator gillibrand gave me really good advice to set some boundaries. so i have some boundaries that i have set up that we don't mess with. and i have also asked my colleagues to abide by them and they have come to respect them and they have been very supportive. for example, i don't take meetings in person before 9:30 because i put my daughter on the school bus. i get her to school. her school starts at 9:00. this has all changed a little bit during covid, obviously. but, you know, my goal is, i am the one who would drive my daughter to school. that is my time with her. and 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 as long as i can 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. but you had a tragic situation
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in your life. how do you maintain your optimism and such a friendly outlook? i mean, do you regret having gone to iraq? because you did not have to go. how do you look and put that into perspective for people who have not suffered as much as you have? sen. duckworth: i, number one, 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. but, you know, 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. and, you know, it is sort of an army, aviation, sort of dry, just being able to laugh at yourself and i think and make the best of it. listen, for me to look back with regret and to feel bad about having been in iraq and getting hurt would have been a slap in the face to the men who saved me, really. i am not going to do that. that is why the book is called, "every day is a gift." they gave me the gift of life that day.
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and so, i owe them to live the best life i can every single day. david: have you ever thought of bottling your happiness? you could make a lot of money if you bottled your happiness. sen. duckworth: you know what? it is just gratefulness. i should have died in that field in iraq. that day in iraq is my northstar and those men who saved my life are my northstar. frankly, even in the toughest of times, even when i just think, this is crazy, like january 6 with the insurrection, i get up the next day and i keep going because i think of what they did for me in that field. they did not leave me behind. they kept fighting to get me back to my family. and the least i can do is keep trying. ♪ so... i know you and george were struggling with the
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