2020 Hopeful Tulsi Gabbard: The U.S. Needs To 'Stop Acting As The World's Police'

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Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard delivers a campaign speech at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox during the Iowa State Fair. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard delivers a campaign speech at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox during the Iowa State Fair. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii learned this week that she'll be on the next Democratic debate stage in October.

Gabbard says the news was no surprise to her. She says her message of bringing “principles of service above self to the White House” is what resonates with supporters.

If elected president in 2020, Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran, says she would end “counterproductive regime-change wars” and redirect taxpayer money to “serving the very real and urgent needs of the American people, things like health care, education, infrastructure [and] protecting our environment.”

On health care, Gabbard supports “Medicare for All,” but says she prefers to call it “Medicare Choice.” She says there is “no excuse” that the U.S., one of the wealthiest nations in the world, still has “far too many Americans who are underinsured or uninsured and who are one health care emergency away from total financial disaster.”

When asked about her parents, who are reportedly tied to Chris Butler, a man widely referred to as a cult leader of a group known as the Science of Identity Foundation, Gabbard refused to answer, calling the question “offensive.”

She says she actively practices Vaishnava Hinduism, which she says promotes “taking action to serve others, to protect our planet and to develop my own personal loving relationship with God.”

Interview Highlights

On “Medicare for All”

“Yes I support [it]. I prefer to call it 'Medicare Choice,' where we are ensuring quality health care for all people regardless of how little they may have in their pocket or their bank account, while maintaining their freedom of choice. If they've got an employer-sponsored plan or a union-sponsored plan that they're happy with, they should have the opportunity to do so.”

On her 2017 meeting with Syria's Bashar al-Assad

“Here's the thing. Assad, Saddam Hussein, [Moammar Gadhafi] from Libya, these are brutal dictators and their people have seen harm, great harm, come from them. My policy has always been that the United States needs to stop acting as the world's police [and] needs to stop waging these costly regime change wars because it does not serve the objectives in the interests of the American people, first of all.

"Second of all, it doesn't actually help the people that supposedly we are trying to help. Time and again people in these countries see more death, more destruction more suffering, more refugees coming about as a result of our going in and waging a regime-change war. And it comes at a great cost to the American people. My brothers and sisters in uniform have sacrificed tremendously, losing their lives, coming home with lost limbs, coming home with invisible wounds. It has undermined our national security, strengthening terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda. So as president, I will end these wasteful wars and I will meet with leaders of other countries whether they be dictators or adversaries or potential adversaries. And I'm inspired by the examples of leaders who've come before us, leaders like JFK who met with Khrushchev, Roosevelt who met with Stalin, a murderous dictator. There are so many different examples of leaders putting the interests of their people ahead of their political interests and exercising the kind of courage that we need to see in our leadership.

“I've said he's a brutal dictator. I mean, look, the reality is my interest is in the interests of the American people. I would meet with Assad again [and] I would meet with a brutal dictator if it meant the possibility of saving more American lives, preventing more of our troops going and putting their lives needlessly into harm's way to continue to wage these wars that politicians in Washington continue to call for.”

On critics who say her politics align with President Trump’s

“Here's why I'm laughing, because you're repeating all of the accusations coming from different political opponents who used smear tactics to try to undermine the message that I'm bringing that's challenging the military industrial complex in Washington, making it out to seem as though meeting with leaders of other nations is somehow cozying up or embracing them or all of these other things, when in fact leadership means choosing diplomacy ahead of doing what's politically popular. I didn't go to Washington to make the Democratic Party happy [or] to make the establishment happy, I went there to fight for the well-being of the people of our country.”

On Republicans who have praised her in the past, such as Sen. Rand Paul and conservative commentator Ann Coulter

“Here's the thing I want to make clear. While you're bringing up some folks on the right, in the town halls that we're having [and] what we're seeing across the country is that my message — one of ending these wasteful regime change wars — is a message that is resonating with Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, people who we may disagree with on other issues but who are coming together recognizing that we the American people are paying for the cost of war and now is the time to end it.”

On whether she thinks it’s inappropriate to ask a presidential candidate about growing up in a home with shrines to a man who is considered a cult leader

“I do. I think that is a very religious bigoted question to ask because it just shows the lack of even interest or understanding about what Hinduism, Vaishnava Hinduism, is about. Right now you're taking misinformation smears and bigoted attacks from other media sources and trying to pose them as sincere questions and I think that's offensive.”

On her father's activism against gay marriage

“Once again Robin, I'm sorry to interrupt because you're saying things that are just not based in fact and you're repeating smears and things that are coming from other folks.”

On apologizing for the work that she did on behalf of her father

“Yeah, so ask me about my positions. Ask me about things that I've said and that I've done.”

On her religious practices

“Look, I don't know how to seriously answer a question in the way that you've posed it because you're not even trying to understand my own spiritual practice as a Vaishnava Hindu.

“Vaishnava Hinduism, the practice that I follow, is a monotheistic branch of Hinduism that is centered around love — love for God and love for others — and how best we can be pleasing to God through the practice of karma yoga, which means taking action to serve others, to protect our planet and to develop my own personal loving relationship with God.”

Jill Ryan produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Kathleen McKennaSerena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on September 25, 2019.


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