Rep. Tulsi Gabbard explains why she voted “present” on the articles of impeachment

Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard did not vote for the articles of impeachment during Wednesday’s historic vote.

She didn’t vote against them, either. She just voted “present.”

In a statement following her vote, Gabbard said her “present” vote was simply a matter of voting her conscience.

“I have always put our country first,” the Hawaii representative wrote. “One may not always agree with my decision, but everyone should know that I will always do what I believe to be right for the country that I love.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) was the single “present” tally during the vote for the articles of impeachment on December 18, 2019.
House Television via AP

Her decision, she said, came down to not being swayed by the evidence of misconduct collected by the House Intelligence Committee during the impeachment inquiry and laid out in a lengthy report. “After doing my due diligence in reviewing the 658-page impeachment report, I came to the conclusion that I could not in good conscience vote either yes or no.”

She went on to say she believes Trump is “guilty of wrongdoing,” but that she had serious concerns about the process itself, calling it “a partisan process, fueled by tribal animosities that have so gravely divided our country.”

A few Democratic defections were expected, perhaps most notably Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who signaled he plans to join the Republican Party following his vote. He voted no on both articles, as did Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine voted for the first article impeachment on abuse of power, but not the second on obstruction of Congress.

Gabbard, though, was a wildcard, with people speculating all day whether she would even show up for the vote at all. But it’s not the first time she’s been an outlier. Although she is running for president as a Democrat, she has taken a number of stances at odds with the Democratic mainstream.

This is perhaps starkest in her foreign policy views: She has railed against “regime change wars” on the 2020 debate stages, and she has been accused of being overly warm to Russia, something that led former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to attack her as “the favorite of the Russians” in the 2020 race.

Gabbard retaliated by calling Clinton “the queen of warmongers” in a scathing reply that won her praise in more traditionally conservative spaces. That praise, which has been sustained as she continues her presidential campaign, has some — including Clinton — concerned she could run as a third-party candidate.

The political fallout from Gabbard’s vote today will likely be minimal. She has never been high up in the 2020 polls, and has said she has no plans to run for reelection in her Hawaii district. She has not been clear on what she plans to do in the likely — and following Wednesday’s vote, nearly certain — event that she does triumph in the Democratic primary.

But the way she has run her race so far has cultivated a strong, if unusual base.

Read Gabbard’s statement below:

Throughout my life, whether through serving in the military or in Congress, I’ve always worked to do what is in the best interests of our country. Not what’s best for me politically or what’s best for my political party. I have always put our country first. One may not always agree with my decision, but everyone should know that I will always do what I believe to be right for the country that I love.

After doing my due diligence in reviewing the 658-page impeachment report, I came to the conclusion that I could not in good conscience vote either yes or no.

I am standing in the center and have decided to vote Present. I could not in good conscience vote against impeachment because I believe President Trump is guilty of wrongdoing.

I also could not in good conscience vote for impeachment because removal of a sitting President must not be the culmination of a partisan process, fueled by tribal animosities that have so gravely divided our country. When I cast my vote in support of the impeachment inquiry nearly three months ago, I said that in order to maintain the integrity of this solemn undertaking, it must not be a partisan endeavor. Tragically, that’s what it has been.

On the one side — The president’s defenders insist that he has done nothing wrong. They agree with the absurd proclamation that his conduct was “perfect.” They have abdicated their responsibility to exercise legitimate oversight, and instead blindly do the bidding of their party’s leader.

On the other side — The president’s opponents insist that if we do not impeach, our country will collapse into dictatorship. All but explicitly, they accuse him of treason. Such extreme rhetoric was never conducive to an impartial fact-finding process.

The Founders of our country made clear their concerns about impeachment being a purely partisan exercise. In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton warned against any impeachment that would merely “connect itself with the pre-existing factions,” and “enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other.” In such cases, he said, “there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.”

Donald Trump has violated public trust. Congress must be unequivocal in denouncing the president’s misconduct and stand up for the American people and our democracy. To this end, I have introduced a censure resolution that will send a strong message to this president and future presidents that their abuses of power will not go unchecked, while leaving the question of removing Trump from office to the voters to decide.

I am confident that the American people will decide to deliver a resounding rebuke of President Trump’s innumerable improprieties and abuses. And they will express that judgment at the ballot box. That is the way real and lasting change has always occurred in this great country: through the forcefully expressed will of the people.

A house divided cannot stand. And today we are divided. Fragmentation and polarity are ripping our country apart. This breaks my heart, and breaks the hearts of all patriotic Americans, whether we are Democrats, Republicans, or Independents.

So today, I come before you to make a stand for the center, to appeal to all of you to bridge our differences and stand up for the American people.

My vote today is a vote for much needed reconciliation and hope that together we can heal our country. Let’s work side-by-side, seeking common ground, to usher in a bright future for the American people, our country, and our nation.