WASHINGTON — As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, announced Wednesday night the first vote on the impeachment of President Donald Trump, the Democratic leader read the 230 yeas and 197 nays — and seemingly paused when realizing a member of her own party had voted for a third option in that historic moment.
“Present,” voted Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii.
Gabbard, a presidential candidate, would end up as the only member of the House not to vote for or against either of the impeachment articles accusing Trump of abusing his office and obstructing Congress.
Late on Wednesday, Gabbard said she staked out that unique position because she believes Trump is guilty but also faulted the Democratic impeachment process as “a partisan endeavor.”
“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,” Gabbard said in a lengthy statement late Wednesday. “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.”
In a week filled with questions about whether Democratic members in swing districts would ultimately back impeachment (or stay with the party altogether), the most high-profile defection in the House on Wednesday turned out to be its only member running to be the party’s nominee for president.
Gabbard’s break from the Democrats was met with questions from lawmakers, pundits and social media users about why the congresswoman was, as she put it, “standing in the center” at such a consequential moment. Her vote also catapulted Gabbard to the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter early Thursday, alongside other terms poking fun at the presidential candidate, such as #TulsiIsARussianAsset, #TulsiCoward and #VotePresentLikeTulsi.
Although Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minnesota, and Jeff Van Drew, D-New Jersey, voted against both articles of impeachment, and Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, opposed the second article, the reaction to Gabbard’s “present” vote overshadowed other Democratic defections. (Van Drew announced this week he intends to join the GOP.)
On MSNBC, anchor Brian Williams appeared baffled by Gabbard’s unorthodox vote.
“Tulsi Gabbard, who was mysteriously missing all day, is in the chamber and has voted ‘present,’” Williams said in a video that has been viewed more than 770,000 times online. He turned to former Missouri senator Claire McCaskill, a political analyst for the network, to ask: “What does that mean?”
“That’s just stupid,” McCaskill replied. “What is the point? I don’t know what this woman thinks she is accomplishing by that.” She added: “We’re talking about her and really we shouldn’t spend any time talking about her.”
Gabbard’s “present” also got the attention of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, who told reporters afterward that she was stunned. Ocasio-Cortez, who is supporting Gabbard’s rival Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, in the Democratic primaries, added that Gabbard owed her constituents an explanation.
“Today was very consequential,” Ocasio-Cortez said, according to BuzzFeed News. “And to not take a stand one way or another in a day of such grave consequence to this country is quite difficult. We’re sent here to lead.”
Following her “present” votes, Gabbard introduced a resolution calling for censure against Trump for abusing his office, in hope of “[sending] 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.”
On social media, however, some users did not know what to make of Gabbard’s thought process, while others, such as CNN contributor Wajahat Ali, said the decision served as, “Your weekly reminder Tulsi Gabbard is a terrible Democratic candidate.”
Gabbard has routinely bucked convention. She traveled to Syria in 2017 to meet with the nation’s president, Bashar al-Assad, which led to significant blowback, along with her stance against arming and assisting the rebels battling his regime. As a Democratic presidential candidate, she has appeared on Fox News where she has slammed both the impeachment process and Hillary Clinton.
Early on Thursday, Gabbard read her statement video, emphasizing that her decision came as “our nation is terribly divided.”
“My vote today is a vote for much needed reconciliation and hope that together we can heal our country to usher in a bright future for the American people, our country, and our nation,” she tweeted.