Gabbard to repay cost of Syria trip

Gabbard to repay cost of Syria trip
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardHouse panel approves 6.5B defense policy bill Jane Sanders starts group to boost ‘progressive voices’ Lawmakers renew push to end federal ban on marijuana MORE (D-Hawaii) will “personally reimburse the cost” of her controversial visit to Syria in January, according to her office.

“Though the trip has met every requirement of the House Ethics Committee, the congresswoman has decided to reimburse [the Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services-Ohio] for the trip because it has become a distraction from the important issue at hand,” the statement read.

But Gabbard stood by her trip, which has drawn condemnation from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“Do the American people want their taxpayer dollars to continue to be used in support of militant groups working hand-in-hand with al-Qaeda and [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] in the effort to overthrow the Syrian government?” the statement said.

“Contrary to baseless claims in the media, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is beholden to no one in the region, her views on the situation are her own, and her determination to seek peace is beyond question.”

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Gabbard secretly traveled to Syria earlier in January on a “fact finding” mission in the country, which has been devastated by civil war.

The Hawaii Democrat confirmed last week she met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during her visit.

“Whatever you think about President Assad, the fact is that he is the president of Syria,” she said on CNN’s “The Lead” on Jan. 25. "In order for any peace agreement, in order for any possibility of a viable peace agreement to occur, there has to be a conversation with him.”

Democrats and Republicans alike were critical of the decision, with members of both parties voicing concerns with the trip in light of Assad’s human rights record.

“An elected official, a representative of the United States, went on a secret trip to meet with the brutal dictator who murdered nearly half a million of his own people – it’s reprehensible and cannot be justified,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said in a Jan. 26 email.

“The actions of Congresswoman Gabbard have put our nation’s reputation and foreign policy concerns at high risk and I couldn’t be more disgusted.”

Gabbard’s trip was sponsored by the Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services in Ohio.

The Iraq War veteran has called on the U.S. to stop supporting rebels fighting Assad in the battle against terrorism, arguing that removing Assad from power would create a vacuum that groups like the ISIS could take advantage of.