Tulsi Gabbard
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Tulsi Gabbard Biography

(1981–)
Updated:
Original:
Tulsi Gabbard is a U.S. congresswoman who represents the state of Hawaii. An Iraq war veteran and a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard, Gabbard ran as a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

Who Is Tulsi Gabbard?

Tulsi Gabbard has served in the U.S. House of Representatives on behalf of Hawaii's 2nd congressional district since 2012. Having been deployed to Iraq (2004-2005) and Kuwait (2008-2009) as part of the Hawaii Army National Guard, Gabbard is one of the first female combat veterans and the first Hindu to be elected to Congress. 

Gabbard was the Democratic National Committee's vice chair from 2013 to 2016, but she left her post due to friction with the committee as well as her desire to endorse Senator Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential bid. Known for her vehement stance against U.S. military interventionism and a champion of veterans' rights, Gabbard announced her candidacy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination in February 2019, before dropping out of the race in March 2020.

Early Life and Education

Gabbard was born on April 12, 1981, in American Samoa, on the main island of Tutuila. Her parents, Mike and Carol Gabbard, moved the family to Hawaii when Gabbard was two years old. Hailing from a multi-racial background, Gabbard is a mix of Polynesian, Asian and European ancestry. She has four other siblings and is second to the youngest.

Influenced by her father, Mike, who is a Democratic state politician, Gabbard was initially against gay rights, but she later changed her stance after her military experience and now advocates for the LGBTQ community.

For most of her high school years, Gabbard was home-schooled. She then studied business administration at Hawaii Pacific University and graduated with her bachelor's degree in 2009.

Military Service and Political Career

In 2002, Gabbard enlisted in the Hawaii Army National Guard. At the same time, she served in the Hawaii State Legislature as its youngest member at age 21. In 2004, she was deployed to Iraq, where she worked in a combat zone as a specialist in a medical unit.

After her first tour in Iraq, she worked for Hawaii Democrat Senator Daniel Akaka as a legislative aide and furthered her military training by graduating from Alabama Military Academy's Accelerated Officer Candidate School in 2007. In 2008, Gabbard volunteered for her second overseas deployment — this time, to Kuwait, where she trained soldiers of the Kuwait National Guard.

In 2011, Gabbard became a chair and vice chair at the Honolulu City Council, overseeing economic development and the budget committees, among other areas. The following year, she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing her state's 2nd congressional district. Since then, she has been re-elected three times.

From 2013 to 2016, Gabbard served as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). However, she quickly became displeased with her role as tensions ramped up between her and chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whom she felt was in favor of 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. That February, Gabbard left her vice-chair role at the DNC and endorsed Senator Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination.

In October 2019, Gabbard declared that she would not seek a fifth term in Congress and would instead focus her efforts as a 2020 presidential candidate. Her campaign endured until March 2020, when she announced that she was throwing her support behind the candidacy of Joe Biden.

2020 Presidential Platform and Policies

Foreign Policy

Perhaps best known for being a strong anti-interventionist, Gabbard emphasized the need for the United States to pull out of Syria and Afghanistan and stop being involved in continuous "regime change wars."

In a tweet she wrote in October 2019, Gabbard asserted: "Foreign policy can’t be separated from domestic policy because the waging of regime change wars, the new cold war, and the nuclear arms race is costing American lives and wasting trillions of $ that should be invested in domestic needs like health, education, infrastructure, etc."

Among some of her controversies in this area, Gabbard met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2017 and concluded that he was "not the enemy of the United States." However, as a presidential candidate, she took a stronger stance against Assad, claiming he is a "brutal dictator."

Criminal Justice

Gabbard called for decriminalizing marijuana and reducing mass incarceration and co-sponsored a variety of legislation to combat these issues. As part of efforts to tackle criminal justice, she said the country would need to address the systemic racism that disproportionately imprisons African American men.

Healthcare

Aligned with fellow presidential candidate Sanders' "Medicare for All" plan, Gabbard was a proponent of universal healthcare and for lowering drug costs.

Climate Change

Although Gabbard expressed her support for the Green New Deal, she also pointed out that some of its policy proposals needed further clarification.

In 2015, Gabbard introduced a bill that would ban fracking, end fossil fuel subsidies and require the United States to obtain 100% of its electricity through clean energy sources by 2035.

Immigration

While Gabbard supported immigration reform and President Barack Obama's DACA program, she ran into controversy after she voted with Republicans on a bill that would require "extreme vetting" on Syrian and Iraqi refugees who want to enter the United States.

Presidential Debates

Although Gabbard mostly polled in the low single digits among Democratic voters, she drew a lot of attention during the first set of 2020 Democratic presidential primary debates and was one of the most Googled candidates.

During the second debate in July 2019, Gabbard attacked Senator Kamala Harris' record as a prosecutor in California, saying Harris should apologize to those who "suffered under your reign." Harris later jabbed back at Gabbard, bringing up her low numbers in the polls, and also telling CNN's Anderson Cooper: "Listen, I think that this coming from someone who has been an apologist for an individual, Assad, who has murdered the people of his country like cockroaches. She has embraced and been an apologist for him in the way she refuses to call him a war criminal. I can only take what she says and her opinion so seriously, so I'm prepared to move on."

Although Gabbard initially threatened to not appear at the fourth debate, saying it was "rigged," she ultimately agreed to attend but not without eviscerating the media. "Just two days ago, The New York Times put out an article saying that I'm a Russian asset and an Assad apologist and all these different smears," Gabbard said, attributing the attacks to her anti-interventionist foreign policy. "This morning, a CNN commentator said on national television that I'm an asset of Russia. Completely despicable."

Gabbard went on to participate in the fifth Democratic debate, in November, but failed to qualify for the debates that followed.

Hillary Clinton Controversy

During a podcast interview in October 2019, Clinton suggested that the Republicans were grooming a third party candidate with the implication that it was Gabbard. (Gabbard has made many appearances on Fox News.) Outraged by Clinton's remarks, Gabbard hit back by tweeting that the former 2016 presidential candidate is “the queen of warmongers” and the “personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long.”

In January 2020, Gabbard filed a defamation lawsuit against Clinton in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Seeking $50 million in damages, Gabbard claimed that Clinton had "carelessly and recklessly impugned" her reputation and intentionally damaged her presidential campaign.

Gabbard dropped the lawsuit in May 2020, citing the importance of focusing on other issues like defeating President Trump's reelection bid.

Personal Life

Gabbard was married to Eduardo Tamayo from 2002 to 2006. In 2015, she married cinematographer Abraham Williams in a Vedic ceremony.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!