Tulsi Gabbard, the Hawaii congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate who controversially voted "present" on the question of impeaching President Donald Trump, defended her decision on Saturday by saying that she's concerned impeachment will cause "lasting damage" to America.
The Hawaiian legislator told ABC News on Saturday that the idea of Trump winning a second term with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives is a "serious concern" for her and that she believes it would leave "lasting damage" on America.
"I think impeachment, unfortunately, will only further embolden Donald Trump, increase his support and the likelihood that he'll have a better shot at getting elected while also seeing the likelihood that the House will lose a lot of seats to Republicans," Gabbard told the reporter in New Hampshire.
She added that her vote was "not a decision of neutrality" but that she was "standing up for the people of this country and our ability to move forward together."
Gabbard said, "Thinking about what's politically advantageous, whether for me or for my party, does not enter into my mind around these decisions that have really great consequence."
In a statement released after the vote, Gabbard spoke out against the "terrible fallout of this zero sum mindset" between Democrats and Republicans and claimed, "I am standing in the center and have decided to vote present, because I could not in good conscience vote against impeachment because I believe President Trump is guilty of wrongdoing."
Gabbard's decision to vote "present" has been the source of controversy since the House voted to impeach Trump earlier this month. Only two other Democratic congresspeople did not support impeaching Trump — Reps. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey (who has since become a Republican) and Collin Peterson of Minnesota.
"That’s just stupid," former Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said at the time regarding Gabbard's vote. "I mean, what is the point? I don’t know what this woman thinks she’s accomplishing by that. I guess getting attention. We’re talking about her, and really we shouldn’t spend any time talking about her."
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., was also critical of Gabbard's vote, telling BuzzFeed News that "today was very consequential, and to not take a stand one way or another on a day of such great consequence to this country, I think is quite difficult. We are sent here to lead. Whenever we have a vote, we should vote ‘yes,’ and we should vote ‘no.’ Voting ‘present’ is a very tough position to be in. To not take a stand in a moment that is so consequential — I think it’s quite difficult."
Although Gabbard has never ranked among the frontrunners for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, she has become a minor celebrity and frequently appears on Fox News. Last month the Democratic Party's 2016 presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, described Gabbard as "the favorite of the Russians" and said that Republicans "know they can't win without a third-party candidate. So I don’t know who it’s going to be, but I will guarantee you they will have a vigorous third-party challenge in the key states that they most needed." Gabbard responded by labeling Clinton as "queen of the warmongers" and an "embodiment of corruption" and insisted on receiving an apology. She has also denied any intention on running for president on a third-party ticket.