Political circumstance could one day bring Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., and Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., together on a ballot against each other. But for now, military service and traumatic injury have united them at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where they often run into one another and visit with troops.
Kirk, who is partially paralyzed from a stroke he suffered two years ago, does rehabilitation at the center when he's in Washington for Senate sessions. He is diligent about his treatment there, in part because he is getting in shape for a grueling 2016 re-election bid .
Duckworth, a former assistant secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, spent a year at Walter Reed after she lost her legs in a helicopter crash in Iraq in 2004. She frequently visits the center that's now in Bethesda, Md., and bumps into Kirk while he's making his rounds.
Duckworth tops the Democrats' list of lawmakers who could run for Senate in Illinois someday. But in a recent extended interview with Roll Call , Kirk talked about his "good" relationship with Duckworth, showing off the braces he wears on his legs to help him walk — equipment he says is very similar to hers.
"Because we're both ex-military, we both kind of speak to each other in the same language. And I have even shown her [the Army camouflage pattern on my braces], which for a Navy guy is kind of disloyal," said Kirk, the former Naval reservist.
"This kind of camouflage, Army camouflage, is called ACR," he continued, pointing to the brace, from behind his desk. "This is an LBJ moment that I'm showing you. We even have the same kind of appliances with the same ACR. A couple of times, we've both kind of showed each other our legs."
Sources say the Illinois congressional delegation has been more collegial in recent months than it has been in a long time, meeting regularly in Durbin's office and working well together on local issues. Much of this is thanks to Kirk's improved relationship with Democrats such as Duckworth and Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin.
Durbin has been an ardent Duckworth backer since he met her while she was recovering at Walter Reed. He recruited her to run for Congress, and on her second attempt she won a House seat in suburban Chicago in 2012.
Also in his interview , Kirk declined to say whether he would back Durbin's Republican opponent in 2014.