In two of the most-tweeted moments of the fifth Democratic Presidential Debate, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, the first Hindu American in Congress, forcefully took on South Bend, Illinois Mayor Pete Buttigieg and California Senator Kamala Harris.
Gabbard, who amassed the lion’s share of Indian American donor dollars during the first quarter of 2019, has rarely polled above 3 percent in national polls and in early-voting state polls. She has not yet qualified for the Dec. 19 debate, to be held at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Calif.
Addressing a question on leadership and inexperience brought up by Buttigieg, Gabbard slammed the candidate for allegedly saying he would send American troops to Mexico to fight drug cartels.
Buttigieg characterized Gabbard’s statements as “outlandish” and taken out of context. “Do you seriously think that anyone on this state is proposing invading Mexico?” he queried, to gasps and guffaws from the audience gathered at Tyler Perry Stadium.
The mayor went on to bash Gabbard, chastising her for meeting with Syrian President Bashar al Assad, whom he characterized as a murderous dictator.
Gabbard sharply rejoindered, saying Buttigieg lacked the courage to meet with adversaries. She referenced President John F. Kennedy, who met with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev; and President Franklin Roosevelt, who met with Russian Premier Josef Stalin — Buttigieg interrupted and said, “Trump and Putin,” which generated another laugh from the audience.
Gabbard said she would meet with adversaries to “ensure that no more of our American brothers and sisters are needlessly sent into harm’s way to fight regime change wars that undermine national security.
The congresswoman also battled Harris, the daughter of an Indian American cancer researcher. “I think it’s unfortunate that we have on this stage someone who has spent four years on Fox News full time criticizing President Obama,” said the California senator of her opponent from Hawaii, emphasizing again the words “full time.”
“When Donald Trump was elected, even before he was sworn in, she buddied up to Steve Bannon to get a meeting with Trump in the Trump Tower,” said Harris, adding: “And she fails to call a war criminal what he is.”
“Sen. Harris continues to traffic in lies, smears, and innuendos,” retorted Gabbard, stating that Harris would maintain the status quo and continue the “Bush/Clinton/Trump policy of supporting regime-change wars which is deeply destructive.”
“This is personal to me because I served in Iraq. Every single day, I saw the terribly high cost of war,” said Gabbard, who served in a field medical unit of the Hawaii Army National Guard in a combat zone in Iraq from 2004 to 2005.