Tulsi Gabbard (; born April 12, 1981) is an American politician serving as the U.S. Representative for Hawaii's 2nd congressional district since 2013. Following her election in 2012, she became the first Samoan American and the first Hindu member of the United States Congress.
Tulsi Gabbard was born on April 12, 1981, in Leloaloa, Maoputasi County, on American Samoa's main island of Tutuila. She was the fourth of five children born to Carol (née Porter) and Mike Gabbard. In 1983, when Gabbard was two years old, her family moved to Hawaii. Her father is a member of the Hawaii Senate.
Gabbard was also a cofounder of the non-profit Stand Up For America (SUFA), which she and her father co-founded in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. SUFA's website profiled Gabbard and hosted letters from her sent during her deployments overseas. In September 2010 SUFA's website came under criticism for promoting Gabbard's campaign for the Honolulu City Council. Gabbard said the improper addition "was an honest mistake from a volunteer," and the problematic page and link were immediately removed.
Gabbard also criticized the arrest of Indian consular officer Devyani Khobragade on charges of visa fraud and perjury. In 2013 she joined some of her colleagues on the House Foreign Affairs Committee in opposing a House resolution that called for "religious freedom and related human rights to be included in the United States-India Strategic Dialogue and for such issues to be raised directly with federal and state Indian government officials". The bill admonished India to protect "the rights and freedoms of religious minorities" and specifically referenced incidents of mass violence against India's Muslim minority that took place under Modi's watch. Gabbard justified her opposition by saying the resolution would weaken the friendship between India and the US and citing the bill's timing as interfering with India's elections, while emphasizing the need for US to stand for religious freedom. She later also said that "there was a lot of misinformation that surrounded the event in 2002."
Gabbard opposed civil unions and same-sex marriage in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She worked with her father's PAC, The Alliance for Traditional Marriage, to pass a constitutional amendment "to protect traditional marriage". Campaigning for her first political office a few years later, she cited her experience with her father's political action committee, which opposed pro-LGBT lawmakers and laws and promoted conversion therapy. The Alliance for Traditional Marriage spent more than $100,000 opposing LGBT rights. In her campaign for the Hawaii legislature in 2002, she vowed to "pass a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage."
Gabbard's first name "Tulsi" comes from Sanskrit. Tulsi is the name for Holy Basil, a plant sacred in Hinduism. Her siblings also have Hindu Sanskrit-origin names. During her childhood, Tulsi excelled in martial arts, and was interested in gardening. She is known to be a surfer and an accomplished athlete. In 2002 Gabbard was a martial arts instructor. She is a vegetarian and, as a Hindu, follows Gaudiya Vaishnavism, a religious movement founded by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the sixteenth century. She especially appreciates the Bhagavad Gita as a spiritual guide, and used it when she took the Oath of office in 2013. Gabbard describes herself as a karma yogi.
In 2002 Gabbard married Eduardo Tamayo. They divorced on June 5, 2006. She cites "the stresses war places on military spouses and families" as a reason for their divorce.
In 2002, after redistricting, Gabbard (as Tulsi Tamayo) ran to represent the 42nd House District of the Hawaii House of Representatives. She won the four-candidate Democratic primary with a plurality of 48% of the vote over Rida Cabanilla (30%), Dolfo Ramos (18%), and Gerald Vidal (4%). Gabbard then defeated Republican Alfonso Jimenez in the general election, 65%–35%.
In 2002, at the age of 21, Gabbard had become the youngest legislator ever elected in Hawaii's history and the youngest woman ever elected to a U.S. state legislature. She represented the Oahu 42nd District, which covers Waipahu, Honolulu, and Ewa Beach.
In April 2003, while serving in the State Legislature, Gabbard enlisted in the Hawaii Army National Guard. In July 2004 she volunteered for a 12-month tour in Iraq, serving in a field medical unit as a specialist in a combat zone with the 29th Support Battalion medical company. Gabbard served at Logistical Support Area Anaconda in Iraq, completing her tour in 2005.
As a Hawaii state legislator in 2004, Gabbard argued against civil unions, saying, "To try to act as if there is a difference between 'civil unions' and same-sex marriage is dishonest, cowardly and extremely disrespectful to the people of Hawaii who have already made overwhelmingly clear our position on this issue... As Democrats we should be representing the views of the people, not a small number of homosexual extremists." She opposed Hawaii House Bill 1024, which would have established legal parity between same-sex couples in civil unions and married straight couples, and led a protest against the bill outside the room where the House Judiciary Committee held the hearing. The same year she expressed her opposition to Hawaii undertaking research on LGBT students, arguing that it would be a violation of their privacy and that "many parents would see the study as an indirect attempt by government to encourage young people to question their sexual orientation". She also disputed that Hawaii schools were rampant with anti-gay discrimination.
Gabbard, a Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee, was critical of chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz's decision to hold only six debates during the 2016 Democratic Party primary season, compared with 26 in 2008 and 15 in 2004. Along with Minneapolis mayor R. T. Rybak and two candidates, Gabbard called for more debates, appearing on multiple news outlets to express her dissatisfaction with the reduction in the number. Later she was either "disinvited" or asked to "consider not coming" to the Democratic debate in Las Vegas as a consequence. In a phone interview with the New York Times, Gabbard spoke of an unhealthy atmosphere and the feeling that she had "checked [her free speech] at the door" in taking the job.
In 2004 Gabbard filed for reelection, but then volunteered for Army National Guard service in Iraq. Cabanilla, who filed to run against her, called on the incumbent to resign because she would not be able to represent her district from Iraq. Gabbard chose not to campaign for a second term, and Cabanilla won the Democratic primary, 64%–25%.
In 2006 Gabbard began serving as a legislative aide for U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka in Washington, D.C., and in March 2007 she graduated from the Accelerated Officer Candidate School at the Alabama Military Academy. She was the first woman to finish as the distinguished honor graduate in the Academy's 50-year history. Gabbard was commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned again to the 29th Brigade Special Troops Battalion of the Hawaii Army National Guard, this time to serve as an Army Military Police officer. She was deployed to Kuwait from 2008 to 2009.
After returning home from her second deployment to the Middle East in 2009, Gabbard ran for a seat on the Honolulu City Council. Incumbent City Councilman Rod Tam, of the 6th district, decided to retire in order to run for Mayor of Honolulu. In the ten-candidate nonpartisan open primary in September 2010, Gabbard finished first with 33% of the vote. In the November 2 runoff election she defeated Sesnita Moepono, 58%–42%.
Gabbard was home-schooled through high school except for two years at a missionary academy for girls in the Philippines. She graduated from Hawaii Pacific University with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration in 2009.
On April 30, 2011, Gabbard informed her constituents that she was resuming the use of her birth name, Tulsi Gabbard, and that there would be no cost to city taxpayers for reprinting City Council materials containing her name. She resigned from the council on August 16, 2012, to focus on her congressional campaign.
In early 2011 Mazie Hirono, the incumbent Democratic U.S. Representative for Hawaii's 2nd congressional district, announced that she would run for the United States Senate. In May 2011 Gabbard announced her candidacy for Hirono's House of Representatives seat. She was endorsed by the Sierra Club, Emily's List and VoteVets.org. The Democratic Mayor of Honolulu, Mufi Hannemann, was the best-known candidate in the six-way primary, but Gabbard won with 62,882 votes (55% of the total); Hannemann finished second with 39,176 votes (34%). The Honolulu Star-Advertiser called her win an "improbable rise from a distant underdog to victory." Gabbard resigned from the City Council on August 16 to prevent the cost of holding a special election.
In 2012 Gabbard said that she believed same-sex marriage should be legalized throughout the United States and apologized for her prior anti-LGBT stand. She has since worked to advance LGBT rights. Gabbard credited her tours of duty in the Middle East for her change in views. She co-sponsored The Equality Act. The Human Rights Campaign gave her a score of 100 for her votes during the 115th Congress, with scores of 88 and 92 for the previous two sessions, respectively. She has opposed both the Defense of Marriage Act and a proposed state constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a woman and a man. In June 2015 she issued a statement supporting Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court ruling that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, arguing that the United States was not a theocracy.
In 2012 Gabbard supported the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act.
As the Democratic nominee, Gabbard traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, and spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. She credited grassroots support as the reason for her come-from-behind win in the primary. Gabbard won the general election on November 6, 2012, defeating Republican Kawika Crowley, by 168,503 to 40,707 votes (80.6%−19.4%).
In December 2012 Gabbard applied to be considered for appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the death of Daniel Inouye, but despite support from prominent mainland Democrats, she was not among the three candidates the Democratic Party of Hawaii selected.
Gabbard has cited US "regime-change" involvement in Syria as a source of the Syrian refugee crisis. In 2013 Gabbard opposed the Obama administration's proposed military strikes in Syria. She later introduced legislation to block U.S. military action against Assad. She claimed that the United States had "been waging a regime change war in Syria since 2011. Central to that war to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad, along with our allies Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar, has been providing direct and indirect support to terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda".
Gabbard supports labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In 2013 she sponsored legislation to require GMO-labeling. In 2016 she voted against a GMO-labeling bill, saying that it was too weak.
In 2013 Gabbard opposed the Obama administration's proposed military strikes in Syria, arguing that intervention in Syria would go against America's national security, international credibility, economic interest, and moral center. She later introduced legislation to block U.S. military action against Assad. She said that US involvement in the Syrian Civil War was "causing people to flee their country".
Gabbard's views on Islamic terrorism have distinguished her from the more moderate views of mainstream Democrats. In 2015 she met with authoritarian Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to discuss counterterrorism, two years after he lead the August 2013 Rabaa massacre which killed hundreds of civilians. She has advocated increasing pressure on Pakistan to stop terrorist attacks and expressed "solidarity with India" in reference to the 2016 Uri attack.
On November 25, 2013, Gabbard received the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award at a ceremony at the Institute of Politics at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government for her efforts on behalf of veterans.
PACs contributed $434,000 to Gabbard in 2014 and $465,000 in 2016. By 2017 she had received more than $1.3 million in special interest contributions. In 2017 Gabbard pledged not to accept money from political action committees. The Intercept reported in October 2018 that she was one of a handful of members of Congress who had pledged not to accept corporate campaign donations.
On March 26, 2014, Elle honored Gabbard, with others, at the Italian Embassy in the United States during its annual "Women in Washington Power List".
Gabbard was reelected on November 8, 2014, defeating Crowley again, by 142,010 to 33,630 votes (78.7%–18.6%); Joe Kent received 4,693 votes (2.6%) as an independent Libertarian.
In a television interview in December 2014, Gabbard said she was "conflicted" about the report published that week on CIA use of torture in interrogations, saying that "the jury [wa]s still out on the report". She also said that while she abhorred torture, were there an imminent danger to American citizens, she, as president, "would do everything in [her] power to keep the American people safe."
In 2015 Gabbard voted with Congressional Republicans in favor of a bill requiring "extreme vetting" of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. The Obama administration said the bill would effectively stop the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States. That same year she called for a suspension of the visa waiver program for European passport holders.
In February 2015 Gabbard and freelance cinematographer and editor Abraham Williams became engaged; they married on April 9, 2015.
On July 15, 2015, Gabbard received the Friend of the National Parks Award from the National Parks Conservation Association.
On October 12, 2015, Gabbard was promoted from captain to major at a ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Akaka administered the oath of office to the new major. She continues to serve as a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard.
Gabbard was mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2016, and that year was assigned as Bernie Sanders's running mate in California for any write-in votes for Sanders.
Gabbard resigned as DNC Vice Chair on February 28, 2016, in order to endorse Senator Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination. She was the first Congresswoman to endorse Sanders. and later gave the nominating speech putting his name forward at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
In July 2016 Gabbard launched a petition to end the Democratic Party's process of appointing superdelegates in the nomination process. She endorsed Keith Ellison for DNC chair in the 2017 chairmanship elections.
Gabbard was one of three members of Congress to vote against House resolution 121, which condemned the government of Syria and "other parties to the conflict" for war crimes and crimes against humanity," saying that though Assad is a "brutal dictator," the resolution was "a War Bill—a thinly veiled attempt to use the rationale of 'humanitarianism' as a justification for overthrowing the Syrian government". She explained that the resolution "urges the administration to create 'additional mechanisms for the protection of civilians', which is coded language for the creation of a so-called no-fly/safe zone." Gabbard has rejected suggestions for the creation of such a zone in Syria, stating that it would likely not work—costing too much money and too many troops while risking confrontation with Russia. In November 2016 she met with United States president-elect Donald Trump in an effort to convince him of her point of view on the safe zone.
Gabbard was reelected on November 8, 2016, defeating her Republican opponent, Angela Kaaihue, by 170,848 to 39,668 votes (81.2%–18.8%).
On November 21, 2016, Gabbard became the second Democrat (after Michelle Rhee) to meet with President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team at Trump Tower. She described the meeting as "frank and positive" and said she accepted the meeting to influence Trump before Republicans grew in influence and escalated the war to overthrow the Syrian government. She later called the Trump administration's 2017 Shayrat missile strike reckless and "short-sighted."
Along with Senator Hirono, Gabbard introduced a bill to award Filipino and Filipino American veterans who fought in World War II the Congressional Gold Medal. The bill passed Congress and was signed by Obama into law in December 2016.
Gabbard also introduced Talia's Law, to prevent child abuse and neglect on military bases. It passed Congress and was signed by Obama into law in December 2016.
In December 2016, Gabbard, along with approximately 2,000 U.S. military veterans dubbed "The Veterans Stand for Standing Rock," traveled to North Dakota to join the protests against the construction of the final leg of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Indian Reservations.
In 2017 Gabbard introduced the "Off Fossil Fuels (OFF) Act", which set a target of 2035 for transitioning the United States to renewable energy. It was endorsed by Food and Water Watch, which called it "visionary".
In 2017 Gabbard supported a bill to increase the hourly minimum wage to $15 by 2024.
Gabbard has been critical of some of Israel's policies. In January 2017 she voted against a House resolution condemning the U.N. Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements built on the occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank. She said: "While I remain concerned about aspects of the U.N. resolution, I share the Obama administration’s reservation about the harmful impact Israeli settlement activity has on the prospects for peace."
In January 2017 Gabbard met with President Bashar al-Assad in what she said was an unplanned meeting during a trip to Syria and Lebanon. Gabbard said in a press release that the trip was approved by the House Ethics Committee and sponsored by Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services (AACCESS-Ohio). The chairman of AACCESS, Bassem Khawam, accompanied Gabbard on the trip, as did Elie Khawam.
Gabbard "reportedly declined to inform House leadership in advance, met with Bashar al-Assad, toured with officials from a Lebanese political party that actively supports Assad, and received funding from an American organization that counts one of those same officials as its executive director." She later paid for the trip with her own money. On February 7, 2017, it was reported that Gabbard failed to comply with House ethics rules, as she had not filed the required disclosure forms by the deadline, but according to her office she complied with House ethics rules by filing her post-trip financial report by the deadline. Remaining forms and her itinerary were submitted on February 8, 2017.
In March 2017 Gabbard was one of the few Democratic representatives to vote for the NRA-supported Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act, "which would have essentially blocked the Department of Veterans Affairs from notifying the National Instant Criminal Background Check System that a veteran was mentally incompetent after determining they are unable to manage their own finances".
In April 2017, after the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack killed at least 74 civilians and injured hundreds more, she called for a U.N. investigation into the attack and the prosecution of Bashar al-Assad by the International Criminal Court should he be found responsible. After Trump ordered the 2017 Shayrat missile strike targeting the Syrian airfield believed to be the source of the attack, Gabbard called the strike reckless and expressed skepticism that Assad was responsible for the attack, which led to sharp criticism from former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean as well as Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden. In February 2019, Gabbard said there was "no disputing the fact that [Assad] has used chemical weapons and other weapons against his people."
In September 2017 she introduced legislation seeking to transition the United States to clean renewable energy. The bill would require electric utilities to transition to 80 percent renewable energy resources by 2027, and 100 percent renewable by 2035, while additionally setting similar vehicle emission standards goals and banning hydraulic fracturing.
Gabbard was reelected in 2018. She defeated her Republican opponent, Brian Evans, by 153,271 to 44,850 votes (77.4%–22.6%).
In 2018 Gabbard tabled the "Securing America's Election Act", a bill to require all districts to use paper ballots, yielding an auditable paper trail in the event of a recount. Common Cause endorsed the bill. When the Mueller Report failed to establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government, Gabbard called this "a good thing for America". She subsequently reintroduced her election security bill, arguing that it would make foreign interference less likely to occur in 2020.
In 2018 Gabbard voted with the minority against a bill that she said worked to undo state-level legislation seeking to curb maximum interest rates on loans. She said that interest rates could reach an annual percentage rate (APR) of 459 percent in Hawaii, which has no such state-level legislation.
On August 7, 2018, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that the Hawaii Army National Guard had instructed Gabbard that a video of her in uniform on her VoteTulsi Facebook page did not comply with military ethics rules. Gabbard's campaign removed the video and added a disclaimer to the website's banner image of Gabbard in uniform in a veterans' cemetery that the image does not imply an endorsement from the military. A similar situation had happened during a previous Gabbard congressional campaign. A spokeswoman for Gabbard said the campaign would work closely with the Department of Defense to ensure compliance with all regulations.
She has called for ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, saying the U.S. is complicit in a humanitarian disaster. In September 2018 she supported a legislation invoking the War Powers Resolution of 1973 to stop U.S. involvement in the war.
In November 2018 Gabbard spoke in favor of a Green New Deal, which was at the time a draft resolution to task a special House committee with coming up with legislation to eliminate fossil fuel use from the economy within a decade. In February 2019 she expressed concerns about the version of the Green New Deal proposed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey.
In November 2018, after Trump indicated the US would not sanction Saudi Arabia over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, Gabbard tweeted at Trump, "being Saudi Arabia’s bitch is not 'America First.'"
After launching her presidential campaign in January 2019, Gabbard again apologized for her past anti-LGBT rights positions and statements, saying that her views had changed as her experience outside of a socially conservative home grew.
In January 2019 The Intercept published an article claiming Gabbard has links with Hindu nationalist organization Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, and the Hindu American Foundation. Gabbard had previously withdrawn her participation from events due to their links with Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the most notable being the World Hindu Congress, “due to ethical reasons arising from participating in partisan politics of India in America”. An earlier version of The Intercept's article searched Gabbard's donor list for "names ... of Hindu origin" to "show Gabbard’s broad base of support in the Hindu-American community". In an op-ed, Gabbard criticized this as religious bigotry, saying that Christians would not be subject to such scrutiny based on their names. She also condemned religious intolerance in politics, media, and society in general. The Intercept removed the sentence with an apology, saying that it was not intended "to question the motives of those political donors" and apologizing "for any such implication". Gabbard also rebutted claims she is a "Hindu nationalist", calling it "religious bigotry", and writing "My meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India's democratically elected leader, have been highlighted as 'proof' of this and portrayed as somehow being out of the ordinary or somehow suspect, even though President Obama, Secretary Clinton, President Trump and many of my colleagues in Congress have met with and worked with him."
On February 2, 2019, Gabbard officially launched her 2020 presidential campaign, saying that it was in the "spirit of service above self" that she announced her candidacy. CNN described her as running on "an anti-interventionalist" foreign policy platform and a populist economic one. Politico described the campaign as in disarray, as campaign manager Rania Batrice left the campaign after her unplanned announcement. Along with the recent conflict surrounding her use of the term "religious bigotry" (in speaking of Brian Buescher's confirmation hearings), and the Daily Kos's decision to fund her opponent for her House seat, Gabbard also apologized for some of her former positions.
In May 2019 Gabbard warned about the danger, costs, and consequences of a potential war with Iran and criticized the Trump administration for elevating tensions.