"We are sent here to lead": AOC jabs Tulsi Gabbard for voting present on impeachment

I don’t know if Gabbard’s done with the left but the left is likely done with her, assuming it wasn’t already.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slammed 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard for being the only House Democrat to vote “present” on impeachment articles against President Trump and refusing to take a stand.

“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,” Ocasio-Cortez told reporters after the historic vote Wednesday, adding, “We are sent here to lead.”…

“Whenever we have a vote, we should vote ‘yes’ and we should vote ‘no,’” the New York Democrat said. “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.”


Indeed — although Jeryl Bier remembered that Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t always been so opposed to voting present:

Her pal Ilhan Omar gutlessly voted present on the House resolution condemning Turkey for the Armenian genocide in October and was lambasted by the right for it, me included. (I don’t recall any AOC laments at the time about members of Congress being sent there to lead.) It reeked of a cop-out: Omar didn’t want to be on record as refusing to condemn a foreign genocide given her frequent criticism of lesser human-rights violations closer to home, but for reasons known only to her, she couldn’t bring herself to condemn it either. Why? Maybe she doesn’t think the Armenian genocide happened. Maybe, as one of the few American Muslims in Congress, she didn’t want to single out one of the world’s foremost Islamic powers for criticism.

Either way, she wimped out. As is the case nearly every time a member of Congress votes present.


I’ve never thought at length about when it might be appropriate to vote present as a matter of principle, not merely because the issue on the floor happens to have put you in an uncomfortable position politically. Maybe it’d be the way to go in rare cases in which Congress is legislating on a matter which one believes it has no reason to address. If, for instance, Omar felt that Congress should never issue pronouncements on foreign affairs in which the United States isn’t directly involved and she applied that policy consistently, I could imagine a principled “present” vote on the Armenian genocide resolution in that case. If you don’t disagree with the substance of the resolution but you also can’t in good conscience vote yes because you believe Congress should speak only on American affairs, then: Present.

That logic doesn’t work with impeachment, as the House is unquestionably the proper forum for addressing whether the president committed high crimes or misdemeanors. Gabbard’s justification for her vote, as you’ll see in the clip below, was that she couldn’t vote no because Trump *is* guilty of some degree of wrongdoing but she couldn’t vote yes because the House process was filthy with partisanship. She had to choose door number three. That’s hot garbage, for the same reason it’d be garbage for a grand juror to vote “present” when asked to issue an indictment under similar circumstances. If you believe there’s probable cause that the defendant committed a crime but you also believe that the prosecution is guilty of misconduct that leads you to doubt the fairness of the proceeding, you should vote no. Better that 10 guilty men go free etc etc.


What makes her choice to vote present so sleazy is that she had an obvious self-interested motive to duck accountability here. It’d be one thing for Gabbard to vote present if she were some random backbencher with nothing to gain; it would have been bold of her to do so, frankly, given how heavily Democratic her home district leans. But she’s retiring from Congress next year and is very clearly trying to build a new political brand for herself as a quirky independent, the sort of heterodox centrist who supports hard-left domestic programs like Medicare for All on the one hand but also sympathizes with enough parts of Trump’s nationalist program (no open borders, we’re overextended abroad) to have built a right-wing populist fan base. She’s almost certainly on her way out of the Democratic Party once her presidential candidacy is finished, likely to reemerge as an uncategorizable maverick.

What better way to rebrand than to opt for a category on the big impeachment vote which she alone, out of 435 members, occupied? Voting present had nothing to do with principle and everything to do with weakly trying to pander to both sides.

Jonathan Last thinks Gabbard’s goals are more concrete. Here’s a fun bit of hypothetical skullduggery:

Imagine a world where it’s July 2020 and Trump is down 10 points to Joe Biden. (Which is where he has been for almost a year.) Mike Pence is obviously a net-zero on the ticket. No one hates him, but no one loves him. He may have been necessary to reassure nervous evangelicals in 2016, but at this point, their fealty to Trump is complete.

Mike Pence may be a wonderful human being and a great family man, but exactly no one would miss him on the ticket.

In this scenario, Trump could see Gabbard as a way to try to break out of his box with hard-core supporters and get to the sort of Ron Paul-ish Democrats on the far left who are maybe reluctant Dem voters or maybe the kinds of people who don’t normally show up to vote. Maybe Gabbard even helps him get a point or two back with women.


I don’t see it. If Gabbard’s game were purely and simply to ingratiate herself to Trump and the right, she would have voted no yesterday, shorn of all the yadda-yadda about the president’s wrongdoing. How could he add her to the ticket when she’s on record as believing he’s guilty of malfeasance in his handling of Ukraine? Also, why would he want to replace a cipher like Mike Pence, who doesn’t help him but also doesn’t hurt him, with a 38-year-old semi-former progressive Democrat who’s known for being an Assad apologist — coincidentally the one foreign thug whom Trump has been aggressive towards? Gabbard has also lambasted Trump periodically for his groveling towards the Saudis, as befits someone whose own foreign policy usually reliably aligns with Shiites’. There’s just too much to overcome for VP Tulsi.

But adding Gabbard to the cabinet at some point? Sure, voting present makes that kinda sorta viable in a way that voting to impeach would not have. And like I say, “present” gives Gabbard that mavericky brand she’s after. What she intends to do with it, be it a third-party run at some point or trying to build a base of support as a nationalist media figure who’s more open to left-wing economic policy than, say, Tucker Carlson might be, is unclear. For now.


Here’s her statement last night, sonorously reminding us that a house divided against itself cannot stand and therefore the proper thing to do is … run out of the house by voting present?

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