Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) will seek her party’s nomination for president in 2020.
In an interview with Van Jones that aired on CNN on Saturday, Gabbard said, “There are a lot of reasons for me to make this decision. There are a lot of challenges that are facing the American people that I’m concerned about and that I want to help solve.
“There is one main issue that is central to the rest, and that is the issue of war and peace. I look forward to being able to get into this and to talk about it in depth when we make our announcement.”
She said she will formally declare her candidacy this week.
Gabbard, 37, represents Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, which encompasses rural and suburban Oahu as well as all of Maui, Kauai and Hawaii counties. She is now in her fourth term.
If elected, she would be the nation’s first female president as well as the first Samoan American.
She joins what is expected to be a crowded field. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Juan Castro has announced his plans to run; Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Kristen Gillibrnad of New York have formed 2020 exploratory committees.
Other possible candidates include Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Vermont senator and 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, former Texas congressman and former Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.
Political and Military Career
An advocate for environmental policy, Gabbard was elected to the Hawaii State Legislature in 2002 when she was just 21 years old, becoming the youngest person ever elected in the state. A year later, she joined the Hawaii Army National Guard. In 2004, she volunteered to deploy with her fellow soldiers, becoming the first state official to voluntarily step down from public office to serve in a war zone.
Gabbard served two tours of duty in the Middle East, and she continues her service as a major in the Army National Guard. Her 2005 deployment was a 12-month tour at Logistical Support Area Anaconda in Iraq, where she served in a field medical unit as a specialist with a 29th Support Battalion medical company. She was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal at the end of this tour.
Between her two tours, Gabbard served as a legislative aide to Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), advising him on energy independence, homeland security, the environment, and veteran issues. While working for Akaka in 2007, she graduated from the Accelerated Officer Candidate School at the Alabama Military Academy, where she was the first woman to finish as the distinguished honor graduate in the academy’s 50-year history.
Gabbard was commissioned as a second lieutenant and again assigned to the 29th Brigade Special Troops Battalion of the Hawaii Army National Guard — this time to serve as the military police platoon leader.
She continued to work for Akaka until 2009, when she again voluntarily deployed with her unit to the Middle East. During this second deployment, in addition to leading her platoon on security missions, she conducted non-military host-nation visits and served as a primary trainer for the Kuwait National Guard. Gabbard was one of the first women to set foot inside a Kuwait military facility and the first woman to be awarded and honored by the Kuwait National Guard for her work in their training and readiness program.
In 2010, Gabbard was elected to the Honolulu City Council, serving as chair of the Safety, Economic Development, and Government Affairs Committee and vice chair of the Budget Committee. In 2011, she visited Indonesia as part of a peacekeeping training with the Indonesian Army.
Tulsi was elected in 2012 to the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming one of the first two female combat veterans to serve in the Congress, and also its first Hindu member. The other veteran was Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). Both are members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
Gabbard serves on the House Armed Services Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, she quit the Democratic National Committee and endorsed Sanders over Hillary Clinton. But after the election, she was briefly considered as a possible member of President Trump’s Cabinet.
Position on LGBT Rights
CNN reported that Gabbard in the early 2000s touted working for her father’s anti-gay organization, the Alliance for Traditional Marriage, which mobilized to pass a measure against same-sex marriage in Hawaii and promoted conversion therapy, which supposedly “cures” homosexuality.
While running for the State Legislature in 2002, Gabbard told The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, “Working with my father, Mike Gabbard, and others to pass a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage, I learned that real leaders are willing to make personal sacrifices for the common good. I will bring that attitude of public service to the Legislature.”
Gabbard’s positions on LGBT rights have shifted dramatically in recent years. She signed an amicus brief in 2013 supporting Edith Windsor’s challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act. But her past anti-gay activism has already drawn criticism from fellow Democrats.
In a statement to CNN, Gabbard said, “First, let me say I regret the positions I took in the past, and the things I said. I’m grateful for those in the LGBTQ+ community who have shared their aloha with me throughout my personal journey.
“Over the past six years in Congress, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to help work toward passing legislation that ensures equal rights and protections on LGBTQ+ issues, such as the Equality Act, the repeal of DOMA, Restore Honor to Service members Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Equality for All Resolution.
“Much work remains to ensure equality and civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ Americans and if elected president, I will continue to fight for equal rights for all.”
On the foreign policy front, Gabbard has been criticized by Democrats for meeting with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in January 2017 and questioning whether he used chemical weapons on his own people in April 2017.
Allegations of Religious Bigotry
In an op-ed piece in The Hill earlier this month, Gabbard accused Democratic colleagues, including Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, of religious bigotry in their questioning of Brian Buescher, a nominee to the U.S. District Court of Nebraska.
Hirono and Harris, members of the Judiciary Committee, had questioned Buescher last month about whether he could rule impartially on issues related to abortion and same-sex marriage, noting that Buescher was a member of the Knights of Columbus, which has taken public stances on both.
Gabbard argued that “politicians have weaponized religion for their own selfish gain, fomenting bigotry, fears and suspicious based on the faith, religion or spiritual practices of their potential opponents … I stand strongly against those who are fomenting religious bigotry, citing as disqualifiers Buescher’s Catholicism and his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus. If Buescher is ‘unqualified’ because of his Catholicism and affiliation with the Knights of Columbus, then President John F. Kennedy, and the ‘liberal lion of the Senate’ Ted Kennedy would have been ‘unqualified’ for the same reasons.”
Hirono spokesperson Will Dempster responded in a statement, “Sen. Hirono asks all judicial nominees – particularly those who have expressed very strong personal ideological views in conflict with Supreme Court precedent – if they can be fair. She asked Mr. Buescher, who has a clear record of anti-choice activism, whether or not he could separate his personal beliefs from decisions he would make if confirmed for a lifetime appointment on the federal bench,
“Over the past two years, the senator has been attacked by right-wing ideologues for her examination of Donald Trump’s ideologically driven nominees to the courts. It is unfortunate that Congresswoman Gabbard based her misguided opinion on the far-right-wing manipulation of these straightforward questions.”
When asked by MSNBC if she will support Gabbard’s candidacy, Hirono said that she would be “looking for someone who has a long record of supporting progressive goals.”
She added, “I certainly wish all of our candidates the best because it is going to be a long, hard race, and so I wish everyone well, but for myself in these times of what I would call not normal times, I want someone who has very much been on the page in terms of supporting equal opportunity, choice, all of the kinds of issues that I’ve been fighting for for decades.”