Tulsi Gabbard, Rising Democratic Star From Hawaii, Makes Mark on Party by Defying It
by Emmarie Huetteman, New York Times, November 28, 2015
…Ms. Gabbard, Democrat of Hawaii, has a reputation among her colleagues for being a composed, contemplative presence in a chamber more prone to reaction than reflection. But lately she has started to shed that persona. Since the deadly attacks in Paris, she has become a high-profile critic of President Obama’s policies in Syria by amplifying her argument that President Bashar al-Assad should stay in power to avoid elevating the Islamic State and by introducing legislation to defund American efforts to overthrow him.
Shortly after voting with House Republicans this month to drastically tighten screening procedures for Syrian refugees — in defiance of Mr. Obama’s veto threat — Ms. Gabbard traveled to Paris. From there, she made the case for focusing on defeating the Islamic State in her fourth national television interview of the week.
“My responsibility is to the people of Hawaii and the American people to stand up and fight for what is right and what is in the best interest of our country,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “That has nothing to do with party politics.”
It is not exactly what Democrats had envisioned when they tapped her for stardom.
That unexpected burst came just weeks after she bucked the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, by calling for more presidential candidate debates.
Those fights have left Ms. Gabbard straddling the line between being a next-generation leader for Democrats and a prominent critic of her party’s leaders.
Shortly after she joined Congress, Patrick Gaspard, a former White House official who was then executive director of the Democratic National Committee, tapped Ms. Gabbard to become a vice chairwoman, she said, a post with fund-raising, campaigning and other party duties she had to have explained to her.
“Coming to be a vice chair of the D.N.C. is not something I ever sought out. It’s not something I knew a lot about,” she said. “I said, ‘What exactly do you want me to do?’ ”
It was in that capacity that she criticized Ms. Wasserman Schultz, the top officer, last month for leaving her and other party officials out of the discussions about the Democratic presidential debates — specifically, the number and the fact that candidates who participated in unsanctioned debates would be disqualified from appearing in others. Ms. Wasserman Schultz declined to be interviewed for this article.
Ms. Gabbard said in an interview that she had spoken out on principle. But to some, exposing internal disputes is a grave offense. Some Democrats privately questioned whether Ms. Gabbard, who takes pride in her independence, was well suited to the more partisan post, said one House Democrat, who asked not to be identified because the discussions were internal party matters.
Though Ms. Gabbard has been unsparing in her criticism of some of Mr. Obama’s national security decisions, some Democrats said that only made her voice more valuable.
“We Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee are not there to rubber-stamp administration policy,” said Representative Adam Smith of Washington, the committee’s top Democrat. “We’re there to say what we think is right, and Tulsi does that and does it very well.”
Ms. Gabbard said, “I’d be dishonoring the memory of a lot of folks who I’ve served with who didn’t make it home if I didn’t stand up for what I believe is right and stand up and speak the truth.”…
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