Did Tulsi Gabbard show courage by voting “present” on impeachment?

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When the US House of Representatives impeached President Trump last night, unlike every other member of the House, Tulsi Gabbard voted “present.” Is she a courageous centrist, or just a coward? Let’s look at her statement.

About that impeachment

Here’s what happened last night.

The votes to impeach came from 229 House Democrats and one independent, the former Republican Justin Amash. They cited the President’s abuse of power in Ukraine and obstruction of congressional investigation.

The votes not to impeach came from all 195 House Republicans and two Democrats in districts that voted for Trump in 2016. They cited a partisan process that they perceived as unfair and insufficient.

One House member split his vote. Jared Golden of Maine’s Republican-leaning second congressional district voted yes on abuse of power and no on obstruction. He decried the president’s actions but felt that “while the president’s resistance toward our investigative efforts has been frustrating, it has not yet, in my view, reached the threshold of ‘high crime or misdemeanor’ that the Constitution demands.”

Is Tulsi Gabbard’s position defensible?

Only one person failed to vote either for or against each article of impeachment: Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard.

Here’s her statement:

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.

This is refreshingly free of the inflamed, partisan rhetoric that characterized yesterday’s debate on the articles of impeachment. It’s also clearly and simply written.

But in the end, I believe every member of the House had a responsibility to vote on the most important question put before them in this session of Congress: should Donald Trump be removed from office for what he has done, or not? Gabbard dodged that responsibility.

There are centrist positions. For example, you may believe that it’s time to strengthen access to health insurance but not time to make it free for all Americans. You may believe that some guns should be illegal and others should be heavily regulated, but that people should have a right to own them.

You may believe, as Jared Golden clearly did, that some of Trump’s conduct was at the level of impeachment, and other conduct was not.

But “I hate the partisan system” is not a defense for failing to make a choice. Gabbard’s vote today is hardly a vote for much-needed reconciliation. It’s a vote for not taking your constitutional responsibility seriously.

This Congress, despite its deep divisions, has passed some bipartisan legislation. The future is in working together despite differences. It’s not in failing to say where you stand.

Every other member of Congress took a stand. Tulsi Gabbard did not. There is middle ground in politics, but there is no middle ground on the impeachment vote. Gabbard is a coward, not a uniter, and her constituents are going to take note of that.

13 responses to “Did Tulsi Gabbard show courage by voting “present” on impeachment?

  1. I don’t think “… coward …” is appropriate. I believe she was trying to stand out amongst members of her party and those other presidential candidates, too. Posturing (she’s a politician, after all, and in this instance seeking national attention.) Another example of this behavior is her wearing of white pants suits on debate stages (while others wear primarily dark colors.)

    I thought she showed gusto when the left her DNC role in 2016 (due to DNC meddling to undermine Bernie Sanders) to join Bernie Sanders campaigning.

    I do believe “present” is a wasted vote, but I don’t believe it revealed her to be a coward.

    1. I respect your perspective. But from my view, if there is an article of impeachment before you, you need to vote on it. You can make all the statements you want about why you voted the way you voted, but you need to vote on it.

  2. Josh, I’m going to nitpick on one sentence in your post that, admittedly, isn’t central to the argument. You said, “For example, you may believe that it’s time to strengthen access to health insurance but not time to make it free for all Americans.” We aren’t debating whether to make health insurance free; we’re debating whether to change the way we pay for health care. I believe it would have been more accurate to say “For example, you may believe that it’s time to strengthen Americans’ access to health care but not time to adopt a single-payer system managed by the federal government.”

  3. I concur with Greg, the following excerpt is not the voice of a coward but one who hopes, perhaps naively, that a country split 48/48/2 is not well served by removing its President during the final year of his term.

    “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.”

    1. I believe that the division is more layered than 48/48/2. In fact, as the surveys have more consistently suggest, more of the country is against Trump and for his removal than not. And the House was more in the middle on impeachment. Pelosi exercised real restraint after the Mueller investigation which many would then say that there were impeachable offenses. I really think the divisiveness if reason and the constitution is the marker, has been perpetuated by the Republicans on the matter of impeachment. Every reasonable minds beyond the partisan sphere endorse impeachment and the associated reasoning. The problem here is that Gabbard failed the reasoning test. And I think much of he vote on impeachment was for bringing attention to her self-proclaimed uniqueness which I believe has ego and immaturity written all over it. This is a Gabbard issue.

  4. > This is refreshingly free of the inflamed, partisan rhetoric
    > that characterized yesterday’s debate on the articles of
    > impeachment. It’s also clearly and simply written.

    I applaud Tulsi. Having intensely followed the proceedings, and seeing how they stacked up, I really think she thought through her decision. I’m not going to reveal my findings, because they would likely contradict the ideology of most of the other authors and commenters on this issue.

    She asked the sober, intelligent question and arrived at her honest conclusion: How can I vote for it, how can I vote against it.

    I applaud Tulsi Gabbard for thinking for herself, and for resisting the temptation to fall into letting the media do her thinking for her.

    Thank you Josh, for bringing this up.

    #TheLastDayOfTruth

  5. I thought this was a lame move. It’s pathetic, attention-seeking behavior. She did not showing courage, she does not have balls of steel. She should have bloated, yes or no. The fact that she was too afraid to actually cast a vote choose exactly why she would make a lousy president. Say what you want to about Trump, but if he was facing the same situation; certainly, the vote would’ve been cast.

  6. I agree with Josh that she should have made a real choice, for or against. However, I think this is a PR move, and not the worst kind. She knew that her vote wouldn’t turn the tide, so she was an opportunist (politician) and decided to grab some headlines with her non-vote and explanation. But she is basically saying that impeachable conduct should not result in an impeachment, becasue the voters should get to decide. This is clearly a bogus argument that goes against the idea of impeachment itself.

    1. I concur. I don’t think conduct that rises to the criteria for impeachment could have been clearer; and unless she doesn’t understand the constitution, I think her reasons for a present vote was completely disingenuous.

      1. I meant: I concur. I don’t think conduct that rises to the criteria for impeachment could not have been clearer; the case was quite clear to the reasonable intellect; and unless she doesn’t understand the constitution, I think her reasons for a present vote was completely disingenuous.

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