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Gabbard seeks shift in national priorities

  • Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard listens to a question during an editorial board meeting at the Valley News in West Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 23, 2020. Gabbard, a congresswoman from Hawaii, is focusing on New Hampshire for her campaign. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/23/2020 10:10:02 PM
Modified: 1/23/2020 10:09:53 PM

WEST LEBANON — Citing her combination of experience in the military and in Congress, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard on Thursday described herself as the most qualified of the Democratic candidates for president to lead “a sea change” in the foreign and domestic priorities of the United States.

To trigger that shift, Democrats at all levels need to renounce the influence of lobbyists for the fossil-fuel industry, military contractors and other giant corporations, the 38-year-old Army National Guard major and four-term Hawaii congresswoman said during a meeting with Valley News editors and reporters.

“The Democratic Party, unfortunately, has become more and more out of touch with people across the country,” Gabbard said. “Rather than being a party of, by and for the people ... it’s instead become a party by and for the powerful elite in Washington.”

Among fellow Democrats with whom Gabbard has tangled is former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee.

This week, Gabbard — who has previously called Clinton the “queen of warmongers” — filed a lawsuit seeking $50 million in damages, saying Clinton defamed her recently by implying, in a podcast last fall, that Gabbard was a “Russian asset” who could wind up dividing the party.

Gabbard said on Thursday that that characterization, which she claims is retribution for Gabbard’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders during the 2016 primaries, is an example of the Democratic establishment’s efforts to remain in power at all costs. (A Clinton spokesman has called the lawsuit “ridiculous.”)

Instead, Gabbard said, the party needs to listen to the concerns she’s been hearing from ordinary voters at forums she has been holding across the state, including town halls this week in Charlestown and one scheduled for Claremont on Thursday evening.

“There’s a sense of great frustration that what they’re seeing on cable news every day is not at all reflective of their voices and their concerns, the things impacting them every day,” Gabbard said. “It begs the question: ‘What about us?’ ”

In New Hampshire, she said, she hears most about the opioid crisis, the impact of climate change, access to health care, college-tuition debt, better pay for teachers and paraprofessionals working with disabled students, and affordable housing.

Gabbard said voters have only asked her about her votes of “present” in the House impeachment of Donald Trump a handful of times.

“A new one that’s been coming up lately is teachers who are struggling to deal with the young children of those who are or were opioid addicts … and the lack of training to know what to do, how to take care of them.”

To solve those and other problems at home, she added, Democrats need to work with Republicans to reduce the U.S. military presence in the Middle East and southwest Asia. Doing so, she said, would free up for domestic priorities some of the billions of dollars the military is spending to police intractable, often “tribal” conflicts from Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan.

While Sanders voices many of the same policies and criticisms of the status quo, Gabbard said that “the unique experience I bring … has prepared me to walk in on Day One” and make sound decisions.

That experience includes previous stints on the House committees on foreign affairs and homeland security and her current one on the armed services panel, as well as two deployments in the Middle East with Hawaii’s Army National Guard.

During the first, in Iraq in 2005, Gabbard said, she worked in a medical unit 40 miles north of Baghdad, in the middle of the hotly contested “Sunni Triangle.”

Her first duty every day, she recalled, was to scrutinize the names of each U.S. casualty from the previous 24 hours “to see if there were any from our unit who had been hurt.”

“It was a heart-wrenching thing, every single day, to be confronted with who was paying the price,” she said.

Much of what Gabbard witnessed during that yearlong deployment deepened her anger at what she calls “these stupid, wasteful regime-change wars” about which “our leaders lied to us.”

And the impeachment and ongoing Senate trial of Trump, she warned, could derail efforts to shift priorities to the homefront and only adds to Washington’s “hyper-partisan” environment.

“It will increase the likelihood of Trump’s support being strengthened, increase the likelihood that House Democrats will lose their majority, the Senate likely to remain in Republican hands,” said Gabbard, who advocated for a resolution censuring Trump instead.

“I voted the way I did to take a stand for the center,” Gabbard said, “to ensure that we get to a place where we remove Trump through the ballot box.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

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