Na­tion’s chal­lenges high­light town halls

Gab­bard fields ques­tions about North Korea, Syria; Schatz says he is com­mit­ted to re­sist­ing Trump agenda

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By TOM CALLIS

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gab­bard warned of the threat from North Korea and de­fended her stance on the con­flict in Syria dur­ing a packed town hall meet­ing in Hilo.

Roughly 500 peo­ple at­tended the meet­ing Tues­day evening at Wa­iakea High School, with top­ics fo­cus­ing on for­eign pol­icy is­sues and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Gab­bard started by dis­cussing mis­sile and nu­clear tests by North Korea, say­ing the threat to Hawaii has been over­looked in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. She said she is push­ing for Hawaii to have its own mis­sile de­fense sys­tem and was urg­ing of­fi­cials to be­come bet­ter pre­pared.

“This is some­thing we can’t af­ford to take lightly,” said Gab­bard, a Demo­crat who rep­re­sents ru­ral Oahu and the Neigh­bor Is­lands.

The near-ca­pac­ity crowd was friendly ter­ri­tory for Gab­bard who re­ceived ap­plause for sup­port­ing uni­ver­sal health care, en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues and a non­in­ter­ven­tion­ist for­eign pol­icy.

But the con­gress­woman also was asked pointed

ques­tions about her meet­ing with Trump af­ter the elec­tion and Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad.

Gab­bard trav­eled ear­lier this year to Syria where she met with As­sad, who is ac­cused of war crimes dur­ing the coun­try’s dev­as­tat­ing six-year civil war.

“I met with As­sad to try to fur­ther the cause of un­der­stand­ing and peace,” she said, af­ter be­ing asked why she met with him and what they dis­cussed.

“And when it comes down to it, we can­not fur­ther the cause of peace and un­der­stand­ing with­out meet­ing with peo­ple we dis­agree with.”

Gab­bard said she met with Trump, a Repub­li­can, to urge him not to in­crease the United States’ in­volve­ment in the con­flict and avoid “regime change wars.” She crit­i­cized Trump’s mis­sile strike on a Syr­ian air­field in re­sponse to the use of chem­i­cal weapons ear­lier this month, de­scrib­ing it as il­le­gal since it oc­curred with­out con­gres­sional ap­proval.

The chem­i­cal at­tack on a rebel-con­trolled area killed dozens, in­clud­ing chil­dren. A sep­a­rate chem­i­cal at­tack killed more than 1,000 in 2013, ac­cord­ing to The New York Times.

“Even with the best in­ten­tions, our ac­tions have so of­ten — in Iraq, in Libya, in Syria — have re­sulted in more hu­man suf­fer­ing, not less,” she said, re­gard­ing in­ter­ven­tion.

Gab­bard re­lated the is­sue to ten­sions with North Korea. She said the reclu­sive regime seeks nu­clear weapons as a de­ter­rent.

“North Korea is watch­ing this say­ing, ‘OK, why should we trust any­thing’ when our coun­try has this track record of regime change,” Gab­bard said. “So, again, our poli­cies have con­se­quences.”

Gab­bard said she sup­ports fight­ing ter­ror­ist groups in Syria but not try­ing to top­ple the regime, say­ing that would em­power ex­trem­ists.

She has faced crit­i­cism from other mem­bers of Congress, na­tional Demo­cratic Party lead­ers and po­lit­i­cal colum­nists for meet­ing with As­sad and later sug­gest­ing he might not have been be­hind this month’s chem­i­cal weapons at­tack.

In ad­di­tion to use of chem­i­cal weapons, hu­man rights groups say the Syr­ian regime tar­gets civil­ians with con­ven­tional weapons and uses tor­ture.

Gab­bard told the Tribune-Her­ald af­ter the town hall meet­ing that al­leged war crimes were raised dur­ing her meet­ing with As­sad, which she said fo­cused on ways to end the con­flict. She said As­sad de­nied tar­get­ing civil­ians.

Asked if she thinks that’s the case, Gab­bard said: “It doesn’t mat­ter what I think. What mat­ters are the facts on the ground.” She said she sup­ports in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the use of chem­i­cal weapons in Syria and prose­cu­tions in the in­ter­na­tional crim­i­nal court.

The crowd ap­peared largely sup­port­ive of her stance.

“I think you did the right thing” in Syria, Danny Lee told her dur­ing the meet­ing. “I ab­so­lutely agree with you 100 per­cent on that.”

Gab­bard was asked dur­ing the meet­ing about sup­port she re­ceived from David Duke and other white na­tion­al­ists for her po­si­tion on Syria. Gab­bard re­jected Duke’s en­dorse­ment.

“I don’t make my de­ci­sions based on who agrees with me or who likes me,” she said, to ap­plause.

“… It’s just a ridicu­lous way to look at things and it un­der­mines the se­ri­ous­ness of the is­sues that we are fac­ing.”

Asked about the prospect of im­peach­ing Trump, Gab­bard said she was study­ing the is­sue, but noted that would mean re­plac­ing him with Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence.

“On the is­sue of im­peach­ment, I am do­ing my home­work; I am study­ing more of the im­peach­ment process,” she said. “I un­der­stand the calls for im­peach­ment, and what I’m be­ing cau­tious about, is that if Pres­i­dent Trump is im­peached, the prob­lems don’t go away.”

Gab­bard said she is con­cerned about deep cuts be­ing pro­posed to the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

“We’re go­ing to be fight­ing this fight in Congress,” she said. “… We need to make sure our re­sources are pro­tected here.”

On health care, Gab­bard said she was putting her sig­na­ture on a Medi­care-for-all bill.

“Our health care sys­tem is bro­ken,” she said. “Our health care sys­tem needs real sys­temic change.”

Gab­bard slammed the Repub­li­cans’ health care pro­posal, which was pulled from the House floor.

“It’s a ter­ri­ble bill that un­der­mines health care for our com­mu­nity, rather than im­prov­ing health care for our com­mu­nity,” Gab­bard said.

She said the Af­ford­able Care Act made progress, but it in­cluded com­pro­mises with drug com­pa­nies.


TOM CALLIS/Tribune-Her­ald

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gab­bard speaks dur­ing her town hall meet­ing Tues­day at Wa­iakea High School in Hilo.

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