Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, promised to make healthcare, criminal justice reform and climate change key concerns for her campaign. File Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has added her name to a growing list of Democrats seeking to unseat President Donald Trump in 2020, and she plans to lean on her military experience to set herself apart.
Gabbard, a former Hawaii National Guard member, announced her intention to seek the presidency on Feb. 2 during a rally on Oahu, Hawaii.
She's portrayed herself as a member of a young class of politicians seeking to oust the old guard and existing way of doing business in Washington.
"We must stand against powerful politicians from both parties who sit in ivory towers thinking up new wars to wage [and] new places for people to die. Wasting trillions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of lives, undermining our economy and security and destroying our middle class," she said.
The 37-year-old native of America Samoa became politically active in 2002, when voters elected her to represent the 42nd House District in the Hawaii House of Representatives. She was the youngest person elected to the state legislature at age 21.
Gabbard declined to run for re-election in 2004 when she joined the Army National Guard and volunteered to serve in Iraq. She served two tours of duty as a member of the 29th Support Battalion medical company. During her first 12-month tour, she received the Meritorious Service Medal and during her second tour, she was commissioned as a second lieutenant after graduating from the Accelerated Officer Candidate School at the Alabama Military Academy.
Between the two tours, she served as a legislative aide to Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, whom she advised on energy independence, homeland security, the environment and veterans issues, her House biography said.
Gabbard re-entered politics in 2010 when voters elected her to the Honolulu City Council. There she served as chairwoman of the Safety, Economic Development and Government Affairs Committee and vice chairwoman of the Budget Committee.
She was elected to represent Hawaii's 2nd congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 and is serving her fourth term. There she serves on the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, where she has advocated for veterans.
She introduced the Heroes Fly Act to improve airport screenings for injured veterans, the Filipino Veterans of WWII Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015 to give Filipino American veterans who fought in World War II the Congressional Gold Medal and Talia's Law to stop child abuse on military bases -- all of which passed.
On the issues
Making her informal announcement to CNN, Gabbard said she considers access to healthcare, criminal justice reform and climate change to be key concerns for her campaign.
"There is one main issue that is central to the rest, and that is the issue of war and peace," she said. "I look forward to being able to get into this and to talk about it in depth when we make our announcement."
Though she's been progressive in some of her stances, she has some more conservative viewpoints and has made controversial statements in the past. Before even making her candidacy official, she posted a video and series of tweets apologizing for a previous lack of support for LGBTQ issues.
"In my past, I said and believed things that were wrong, and worse, hurtful to people in the LGBTQ+ community and their loved ones. I'm deeply sorry for having said and believed them," she said.
Gabbard pointed to her congressional record in support of LGBTQ rights as a contrast to the household in which she grew up, where her father was outspoken against gay rights.
"Over the years, I formed my own opinions based on my life experience that changed my views -- at a personal level in having aloha, love, for all people, and ensuring that every American, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, is treated equally under the law," she said.
Gabbard has also expressed some anti-Muslim sentiment, breaking with her party with her embrace of the term "radical Islam" to describe some terrorists. She also met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Democrats believe should be deposed amid a nearly eight-year civil war.
Shortly after Gabbard announced her candidacy, NBC News published a report saying a survey of the major English-language Russian news outlets have shown support for the representative over other 2020 candidates. Those outlets, which have published more stories about her than other candidates, are considered to be mouthpieces for the Russian government.
In response, Gabbard accused NBC of using "journalistic fraud" in a smear campaign against her.
If elected, Gabbard would become the United States' youngest and first Hindu, American Samoan and female president.