The 10 Toughest Politicians in Washington Today

Here are the 10 bravest, toughest people on Capitol Hill.

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Most-hated.A bunch of babies.Worse than lice and root canals.

Our politicians get assigned a lot of different descriptors, but "brave" and "tough" usually aren't among them. While Whispers has done the requisite Congress-bashing over time, the more tenacious members up on Capitol Hill, in the White House, and running federal agencies also can't be ignored.

Here are the 10 most badass among them:

Tammy Duckworth, Black Hawk pilot

When Duckworth joined the U.S. Army Reserve in 1992, she chose to fly helicopters because it was one of the only combat jobs women were allowed to do. In 2004, she deployed to Iraq, and it was not long before her Army Black Hawk helicopter was hit by a grenade. She lost both her legs and partial use of an arm in the attack.

But she told MSNBC in 2010 that she was "at peace" with her wounds, "because until what would have been my last breath I was trying to do my job as a soldier. I didn't quit trying. I can live with that."

Since being injured Duckworth has run the Chicago marathon, was named an assistant secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and now serves as the representative from Illinois' eighth district. She is the first disabled woman elected to the House of Representatives.

John McCain, torture survivor

Years before his career in the a Senate representing Arizona and two unsuccessful bids for the presidency, McCain was almost killed in a fire onboard the USS Forrestal in July 1967 in Vietnam, where he served as a naval aviator. Three months later, he almost died again, this time getting shot down during a bombing mission over Hanoi, which led to his capture by the North Vietnamese and years of captivity.

During his time as prisoner of war, McCain was interrogated and tortured with beatings while tied with ropes. He was released in 1973, after which he shared the account of his ordeal with U.S. News. "My own plans for the future are to remain in the Navy," he said at the time, but noted: "I hope to serve the government in some capacity." Serve he did, he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1982 and has remained on the Hill ever since.

Mary Jo White, terrorist prosecutor

When President Barack Obama nominated White to run the Securities Exchange Commission this month, he warned: "You don't want to mess with Mary Jo." No kidding. A quick list of her wins as prosecutor: she took down mob boss John Gotti (1992), Omar Abdel Rahman, who planned the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, as well as the United Nations and other New York landmarks (1995), Ramzi Yousef, who also plotted the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (1997). She even warded off a suit by Donald Trump, who was upset with the books division of Time Warner for publishing a book on "the art" of being the real estate mogul (2009).

Tim Huelskamp, GOP rebel

Huelskamp made a name for himself last year by slamming his own party's leadership, getting himself kicked off plum assignments to the Budget and Agriculture Committees, and then continuing to act the part of a rebel. During the roll call of Boehner's re-election as speaker, Politico reported Huelskamp defiantly held an iPad with the names of fellow congressmen he expected to vote against Boehner.

One of Huelskamp's favored quotes, according to the National Journal: "If you're getting punished, you must be doing something right."

Tulsi Gabbard, counterterrorism trainer

Gabbard, who like Duckworth is also an Iraq War veteran, served as a company commander with the Hawaii Army National Guard for years. In 2004, she deployed as a medical operations specialist for a tour near Baghdad. And in 2009, she was deployed to Kuwait to train the tough counterterrorism units there.

The Hawaiian congresswoman has also broken all kinds of records, having been the youngest person elected to the Hawaii legislature at 21, and the first Hindu-American elected to the U.S. House.

Bill Nelson, python hunter

The Democratic senator from Florida hates the giant Burmese pythons that have come to plague his state, saying they are poised to hurt the Everglades ecosystem and swallow little children in the process. So earlier this month, the former astronaut spent hours trying to hunt them down—all while armed with handguns, machetes and five airboats, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Nelson didn't get any snakes on hunting day, but he has asked the public to continue where he left off, with a "Python Challenge" that encourages Floridians to hunt and turn in the dead snakes.

On Inauguration Day, Nelson beat off the cold by wearing a hot orange baseball cap with a camouflage visor, which his spokesperson told the Times he uses for quail hunting.

Rahm Emanuel, wielder of dead fish and knives

Emanuel became known as Obama's attack dog during his time in the White House, and has kept the reputation as mayor of Chicago. But he earned the tough reputation long before that. According to Foreign Policy Magazine, Emanuel once reportedly sent a pollster who angered him a 2 1/2 foot decomposing fish in a mahogany box as a warning not to screw up again. And the magazine reports that after Bill Clinton first won the presidency, Emanuel supposedly began yelling the names of those who were deemed enemies while stabbing the table and shouting "Dead! Dead! Dead!"

The picture of Emanuel's toughness isn't complete without the story behind the missing finger. After cutting it while working at a fast food restaurant as a high school senior, he chose to go swimming in Lake Michigan instead of to the hospital. The decision led to an infection that nearly killed him. Emanuel pulled through, part of his finger didn't.

Hillary Clinton, tough as nails madame secretary

Love her or hate her, Clinton has firmly established herself as a tough secretary of state, starting with the viral photo from "Texts from Hillary" that showed her texting in sunglasses while on a military plane. Other photos that projected the image of cool: her vigorous dancing in South Africa, and unwinding in Colombia with a beer. The secretary also knows how to put interviewers in their place, answering a question in 2010 in Krzgystan about which designers she preferred with: "Would you ever ask a man that question?" Interviewer: "Probably not." She also deflected attacks from members of Congress during a hearing on Benghazi last week, leading the women's website Feministing to create a page of gifs of her toughest facial expressionsfrom the day.

Dianne Feinstein, gun slayer

The California senator today is known for pushing legislation on an assault weapons ban, but few know her motivation behind it. The story goes back all the way to 1978, when Feinstein was president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Just after she announced she would not seek re-election, Feinstein found a slumped Supervisor Harvey Milk, who had just been shot five times by ex-supervisor Dan White. (Milk is famous for being the first openly gay person elected to public office in the U.S.) When Feinstein checked Milk for a pulse, her finger inadvertently entered Milk's bullet wound, and police had to hold her up as she left the room.

In tears, she told the public that day what had happened. But she rarely talks about it today, telling the San Francisco Chronicle recently: "I still have a hard time returning to it... I know what happened; I lived those times, and I've tried to learn from them in terms of the kind of public servant I am, and that's really enough for me."

Kyrsten Sinema, woman of firsts

The Arizona congresswoman spent part of her childhood living in an abandoned gas station after her stepfather had lost his job, a building with no electricity and no running water. She brought that difficult experience to her work as a social worker, and has now brought it to Capitol Hill—along with a willingness to buck convention. Despite being raised a conservative Mormon, Sinema recently became the first member of Congress to describe her religion as "none," and the first openly bisexual member of the House.

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook or reach her at