Tulsi Gabbard: Who is the Hawaii congresswoman running for US president in 2020?

Iraq war veteran has faced criticism for secret meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and supporting additional restrictions on refugees entering US

Emma Snaith
Saturday 12 January 2019 12:45 GMT
Hawaiian senator Tulsi Gabbard announces she'll run for US president in 2020

The congresswoman of Hawaii has announced she will run for president in 2020 in what is likely to be a crowded Democratic field.

Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran who made history in 2012 as the first Hindu elected to the US Congress, has been considered a “rising star” within the Democratic Party.

The 37-year-old congresswoman was born in American Samoa, but her family moved to Hawaii aged two. She is the first member of congress to be born in the US territory covering seven South Pacific islands.

At the age of 21 Ms Gabbard became the youngest person elected to the Hawaiian State Legislature, a decade before she was elected to Congress to represent Hawaii’s second congressional district.

The congresswoman has also served in a medical unit of the Hawaii National Guard and was deployed twice to the Middle East.

Ms Gabbard was one of the most prominent politicians to back Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. She resigned as vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee to express her support.

The congresswoman’s support for Mr Sanders paid dividends two years later when her re-election bid was endorsed by Our Revolution, a grassroots political organisation launched by supporters of Sanders’ campaign.

Asked last year whether she would still consider running if Mr Sanders ran, Ms Gabbard said Mr Sanders is a friend and she did not know what his plans were.

"I'm thinking through how I can best be of service and I'll make my decision based on that," she said.

In 2016, Ms Gabbard drew criticism from fellow Democrats when she met with Donald Trump during his transition to president and later when she took a secret trip to Syria and met with President Bashar al-Assad, who has been accused of war crimes and genocide and has presided over a civil war which has killed over half a million people.

She questioned whether he was responsible for a chemical attack on civilians that killed dozens and led the US to attack a Syrian air base.

Ms Gabbard said she does not regret the trip and considers it important to meet with adversaries if "you are serious about pursuing peace".

The congresswoman noted that she was "sceptical" that Mr Assad's regime was behind the chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people in Syria in 2017, aligning herself with nationalist figures such as Narendra Modi of India.

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Ms Gabbard has also broken with most Democrats by embracing the use of the phrase "radical Islam" and joined Republicans in criticising Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama for not using the phrase.

In 2015 the congresswoman was among a minority of Democrats who voted for additional restrictions on refugees entering the US from Syria and Iraq.

Ms Gabbard told CNN in an interview set to air on Saturday night that she will formerly announce her presidential candidacy next week.

"There are a lot of reasons for me to make this decision," she said. "There are a lot of challenges that are facing the American people that I'm concerned about and that I want to help solve."

Additional reporting by AP

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