Gabbard’s supposed progressive alignment questioned by Hawaii lawmaker

The Congresswoman did not sign a letter from the majority of House Dems condemning Trump's Bannon appointment; today she met with him at Trump Tower in New York City

Will Caron

Maui lawmaker Angus McKelvey thinks Congresswoman Gabbard should stand with fellow U.S. House Democrats against the appointment of Stephen Bannon as President-elect Trump’s chief strategist. In a letter the state representative sent to Gabbard, he questions the Congresswoman’s lack of support in condemning the appointment (full letter text below).

Last week, Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline circulated a letter condemning the appointment, which at least 169 House democrats—the majority of them—have signed. Both of Hawaii’s senators, Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz, have also condemned the appointment.

Bannon, the former executive chairman of the right-wing website Breitbart News, is supported by a host of individuals and groups that can only be described as racist, xenophobic and decidedly chauvinistic—as is the majority of the content published on the Breitbart website (watchdog group TellMAMAuk has a good rundown of Brietbart’s Islamophobic content here). His appointment was cheered by groups identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as white nationalist hate groups.

[Related: Trump spokesman denounces racism amid ‘alt-right’ meeting via The Hill]

“Your refusal to stand with other Democrats in solidarity infers that you not only support Trump’s appointment, but are shifting your political views to fall in line with the incoming administration,” said McKelvey in his Nov. 17 letter.

McKelvey is “perplexed as to why Gabbard would not join our congressional delegation, and other House Democrats, in opposing this disturbing appointment.”

In light of recent national reports that the Congresswoman has met with Trump, McKelvey says Hawaii’s residents have a right to know if Gabbard stands in opposition to Bannon.

“President-elect Trump asked me to meet with him about our current policies regarding Syria, our fight against terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS, as well as other foreign policy challenges we face,” Gabbard said in a statement released today. “I felt it important to take the opportunity to meet with the President-elect now before the drumbeats of war that neocons have been beating drag us into an escalation of the war to overthrow the Syrian government—a war which has already cost hundreds of thousands of lives and forced millions of refugees to flee their homes in search of safety for themselves and their families.”

She added, “While the rules of political expediency would say I should have refused to meet with President-elect Trump, I never have and never will play politics with American and Syrian lives.”

According to CNN, Gabbard is being considered for jobs at the Defense Department, State Department and the United Nations. Gabbard is not the first Democrat to meet with Trump. Trump met last week with corporate education reformer Michelle Rhee, the former schools chief of Washington, who is being considered for education secretary.

Gabbard was a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ bid for presidency, even stepping down from her post as a vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee when it became clear early on that the party establishment favored a Clinton candidacy. In California, where Sanders was approved as an official write-in candidate, Gabbard served as his hypothetical ticket-mate. At the same time, however, she was reluctant to criticize then-candidate Trump’s Islamophobic rhetoric throughout the course of the divisive campaign.

In contrast, Gabbard was a vocal critic of President Obama’s policy of refusing to directly associate ISIS and other terrorists with the Islamic faith (something Islamophobia watchdogs groups have lauded as a commitment to protecting the civil liberties and safety of Muslims in America). As early as February 2015, Gabbard was appearing on Fox News programs to criticize President Obama for saying that “poverty, lack of access to jobs, lack of access to education” is contributing to radicalization. “They are not fueled by materialistic motivation, it’s actually a theological [issue], this radical Islamic ideology,” she said on Neil Cavuto’s “Your World.”

In perpetuating the idea that Islamic teaching and radicalism are one and the same and criticizing President Obama for emphasizing that poverty and lack of access to opportunity has contributed to the rise of ISIS, Gabbard ignored the fact that people in Syria and Iraq have been through years of brutal civil war, have had their economies wrecked, and have endured massive displacement. In her words, it seems, the only reason for the rise of extremism in the region is because of Islamic theology.

Gabbard is also a supporter of India’s controversial rightwing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist Indian Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Since her election to Congress, Gabbard has tied herself closely to this party, which has a history of condoning hatred and violence against India’s Muslim minority (see 2002 Gujarat riots). Modi has slowly been changing his country’s stance on the Israel-Palestine situation as well. India has historically been supportive of the Palestinian position, but this has changed since Modi’s ascendance to the position of Prime Minister. Gabbard is a staunch supporter of Israel’s security programs. Election donor records show that significant stateside donors to her campaigns have been supporters of this pro-Israel, anti-Muslim shift, and of the BJP philosophy, which disdains secularism and promotes religious sectarianism.

In November 2015, Gabbard, along with 46 other Congressional Democrats, voted for a Republican bill called the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act. This bill would have required new screening requirements for Syrian and Iraqi refugees and would have made the already arduous process of applying for refugee status in the U.S., nearly impossible. It passed the House but was voted down in the Senate.

During the same month, Gabbard co-signed a letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accusing him of inciting violence between Israelis and Palestinians. The letter reads in part: “...statements made by you, other political figures, cleric and officials PA media have undoubtedly served to inflame the current situation. False claims about changing the status quo on the Temple Mount or accusations of Israel executing an attacker—when, in fact, he is being treated in an Israeli hospital—only encourage more acts of terror. The abhorrent and deadly rhetoric—including calls for knife attacks on Israelis—must stop.”

While the letter was correct to point out that the attacker in question was, in fact, alive, the “false claims” about the Temple Mount status quo turned out to be propaganda-parroting. Israel was at the time, and continues today, to question Jordanian authority of the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa Compound in East Jerusalem’s Old City. Hard-line rightwing settlers have made repeated attempts to pray on the Muslim-only Temple Mount, under escort of Israeli authorities. Israel annexed East Jerusalem, including the Old City, in 1967 in a move still not recognized by the international community.

And at the time of the letter, more than 85 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli troops or settlers—including unarmed protestors and bystanders. In the same period, 12 Israelis were killed.

When Israeli prime minister Netanyahu showed up at the U.S. Congress uninvited to speak against the Iran deal before a largely GOP audience, some 30 Democratic members of Congress publicly boycotted the speech. Gabbard was not one of them. After Netanyahu’s speech, Gabbard released a statement echoing Netanyahu’s criticisms of the Iran deal:

“While there is hope that a negotiated solution to this problem remains within the realm of possibility, I am cynical. There are a variety of issues, including having already conceded allowing Iran to enrich uranium, Iran’s breakout capacity, and the continued lack of transparency and access for UN inspectors, that are of genuine concern. The objective must remain at the forefront: we must work together to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran,” Gabbard said, adding, “The United States’ relationship with Israel must rise above the political fray, as America continues to stand with Israel as her strongest ally.”

Gabbard’s supporters have already taken to social media to insist that she is being pragmatic and that her meeting with President-elect Trump was nothing more than a smart political play. But Rep. McKelvey’s question remains unanswered: for a Democrat whose supporters often point to her stance on the environment as evidence of her progressive nature, why is Gabbard refusing to condemn the appointment of Stephen Bannon to the Trump White House?

Letter from Rep. Angus McKelvey to U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard:

Dear Representative Gabbard,

I am writing to you today to express concerns I have recently received from many of our residents and constituents here in Hawaii who were unable to get clarification from your office. These concerns are related to your refusal to sign a letter of opposition to President Elect Trump’s appointment of Stephen Bannon as the chief strategist to the White House. The November 16, 2016, letter was signed by 169 House Democrats, including members of our Hawaii delegation. The letter clearly outlines the significant concerns with Mr. Bannon in the wake of a divisive election and the need to unify our country. 

As you are aware, Mr. Bannon – the former executive of Breitbart News, has earned a reputation as a racist xenophobe who promotes anti-Semitism and takes a radical approach to illegal immigration. This flies in the face of what Democrats – particular Hawaii Democrats – stand for. In fact, criticism of Bannon appears to come from both Democrats and Republicans alike. The House Democrats’ opposition letter cites praises on Bannon’s appointment from white nationalist leaders, representing organizations such as the KKK and the Nazi Party, as disturbing. Indeed, this is beyond disturbing. This is something that everyone in America should find reprehensible especially here in Hawaii as we are living, breathing tapestry of a multitude of cultures and races.

As an elected representative for the people of Hawaii, it is perplexing to me why you would not join our Hawaii congressional delegation, and other House Democrats in expressing your opposition to the Bannon appointment. Your refusal to stand with other Democrats in solidarity infers that you not only support Trump’s appointment, but are shifting your political views to fall in line with the incoming administration. This is extremely concerning in light of the November 15, 2016, article in The Hill that was forwarded to me by our constituents that concluded that Mr. Bannon is a “big fan” of yours because of your right-wing leanings on particular issues.

All of this begs the question of why you – an elected Democrat representing constituents in a highly Democrat district – support an individual who has a propensity for racism, anti-immigration, anti-Semitism, and ties to White Supremacists groups. Your silence on this issue also infers to many that you would rather see our country continue its current course of disorder and turmoil instead of unity for the good of all the people.
My concern is that your lack of solidarity with other Democrats, and support of Trump’s appointment, does not serve the best interest of the people of our districts or Hawaii as a whole. To this end, I would like to know why you chose not to sign the letter of opposition, and what your official position is on the appointment of Mr. Bannon as the chief strategist to the White House. Furthermore, I urge you to issue an official statement denouncing Mr. Bannon’s appointment so our fellow Hawaii Democrats know where you stand on this critical issue. 

Aloha Pumehana,