As the House of Representatives debated two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Wednesday, many members of Congress noted during their short speaking time that the impending vote would likely be one of the most important decisions of their legislative careers.
For Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, however, the question of whether to vote for the president to be tried on charges of obstruction of Congress and abuse of power was apparently not worth answering.
The Hawaii Democrat and presidential candidate, one of the last members of her party to come out in support of the impeachment inquiry, voted “present” for the two votes on the articles of impeachment against Trump and was nowhere to be found during four procedural votes on Wednesday morning or during the six hours of scheduled debate over the articles.
In a statement released after she voted “present” on both articles, Gabbard said that because she “could not in good conscience vote either yes or no... I am standing in the center and have decided to vote ‘Present.’”
Gabbard blamed both sides of the House for turning the impeachment inquiry into a “partisan endeavor,” blasting Trump’s defenders as having “abdicated their responsibility to exercise legitimate oversight,” and the president’s critics of using “extreme rhetoric.”
“My vote today is a vote for much needed reconciliation and hope that together we can heal our country,” Gabbard concluded.
Gabbard’s office did not respond to numerous requests for comment over the course of the day about her intentions on the articles of impeachment, or to an inquiry about the reasons behind her abstention following the final vote. Gabbard has missed nearly 90 percent of the votes held in the House of Representatives over the past two months to meet the demands of her increasingly quixotic quest for the Democratic nomination. In October, she announced that she would not be seeking re-election to her seat in Congress.
On Monday, Gabbard—the only member of the Democratic presidential field eligible to cast a House vote on articles of impeachment—told an audience in South Carolina that she was “taking this time for myself to be able to review everything that's happened” before coming to a final decision on whether to vote for the articles of impeachment. “I think it’s really important that every member of Congress cast their vote based on what’s in the best interest of the country, rather than based on political implications.”
In the meantime, Gabbard said she would be putting forward a censure resolution, which would register the House’s deep disapproval of misconduct but would not endanger Trump’s presidency itself. As of Wednesday evening, however, no such legislation had been submitted.
Gabbard’s congressional staff did not immediately respond to a request for a copy of the censure resolution and reportedly told Civil Beat reporter Nick Grube that they didn’t have a copy, but her office released the language of the censure bill shortly after her vote on the articles of impeachment. In the measure, Gabbard calls for a censure of Trump for his actions involving Ukraine, accusing the president of “a willful abuse of power” and “putting his personal political interests before those of the American people.”
The decision to avoid taking a stand on either side of the impeachment question was not popular with some of Gabbard’s Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives. First-term Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York told reporters after the vote that “to not take a stand one way or another in a day of such grave consequence to this country is quite difficult. We’re here to lead.”
The congresswoman became only the 20th member of the House in history not to vote on articles of impeachment against a sitting president and the first ever to vote “present.” In 1868, 17 members declined to participate in a vote on articles of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson.
More than a century later, two House members missed voting on the four articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton in 1998. California Democrat George Miller was recovering from hip surgery; Maine Republican Tom Allen left halfway through the vote to walk his daughter down the aisle.
“I can’t tell you how bad this feels,” Allen said at the time, calling the question of impeachment “one of the most important votes that... [I would] ever cast.”