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Gabbard votes 'present' on impeaching Trump

Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardHarris faces biggest moment in spotlight yet Ocasio-Cortez slams Tulsi Gabbard for amplifying ballot harvesting video Republicans call on DOJ to investigate Netflix over 'Cuties' film MORE (D-Hawaii), who is running for president, voted “present” on impeaching President TrumpDonald John TrumpNearly 300 former national security officials sign Biden endorsement letter DC correspondent on the death of Michael Reinoehl: 'The folks I know in law enforcement are extremely angry about it' Late night hosts targeted Trump over Biden 97 percent of the time in September: study MORE on Wednesday in an unexpected defection among Democrats.

Gabbard claimed in a statement that she was "standing in the center" with her "present" vote.

“I could not in good conscience vote against impeachment because I believe President Trump is guilty of wrongdoing,” Gabbard said. 

“I also could not in good conscience vote for impeachment because removal of a sitting president must not be the culmination of a partisan process, fueled by tribal animosities that have so gravely divided our country,” Gabbard continued.

Gabbard went on to declare that "Congress must be unequivocal in denouncing the president’s misconduct and stand up for the American people and our democracy."

But instead of impeachment, Gabbard called for consideration of a resolution that she introduced this week to censure Trump for his efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate his political opponents.

She argued that it would send a "strong message to this president and future presidents that their abuses of power will not go unchecked, while leaving the question of removing Trump from office to the voters to decide."

Gabbard's vote is sure to invite speculation that she intends to run as a third-party candidate later this year. 

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She has little chance of winning the Democratic presidential nomination and did not qualify for Thursday's debate.

Gabbard declined to respond to reporters' questions as she left the House floor, instead repeatedly referring them to her statement. Gabbard had not shown up to any votes earlier in the day.

Gabbard has said that she won't run as a third-party candidate, and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE said last month that Gabbard had made an "unequivocal pledge" to run for president only as a Democrat.

Gabbard's fellow Democrats expressed surprise and disappointment at her unexpected vote as they left the House floor Wednesday night.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds | Trump reverses course, approving assistance for California wildfires | Climate change, national security among topics for final Trump-Biden debate Biden distances himself from Green New Deal during town hall Ocasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts MORE (D-N.Y.) said Gabbard's "present" vote amounted to not taking a stand at all on impeaching Trump for his actions with regard to Ukraine.

"Today was a really important day. Whenever we have a vote, we should vote yes and we should vote no. And voting 'present' is a very tough position to be in. To not take a stand in a moment that is so consequential I think is quite difficult," Ocasio-Cortez said.

Others were plainer in their exasperation.

"It's beyond anything that you can really understand," said Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenTwo ethics groups call on House to begin impeachment inquiry against Barr Jewish lawmakers targeted by anti-Semitic tweets ahead of election: ADL Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen wins Democratic primary MORE (D-Tenn.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Some Democrats — including Rep. Ben McAdams (Utah), a freshman who represents a swing district — had also floated censure instead of impeachment, but those efforts went nowhere. Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP blocks Schumer effort to adjourn Senate until after election GOP noncommittal about vote on potential Trump-Pelosi coronavirus deal Overnight Health Care: Trump takes criticism of Fauci to a new level | GOP Health Committee chairman defends Fauci | Birx confronted Pence about Atlas MORE (D-Calif.) dismissed the idea of censure earlier this year as "just a way out" and insufficient.

"If you're going to go, you've got to go. If the goods are there, you must impeach. And censure is nice, but it is not commensurate with the violations of the Constitution — should we decide that's the way to go," Pelosi said in June.

Gabbard's decision to vote "present" on the two articles of impeachment accusing Trump of abuse of power and obstructing Congress came as a surprise given that she had not made her intentions known beforehand.

But she did say earlier this week that she planned to introduce a resolution censuring Trump.

"I'm taking this time for myself to be able to review everything that's happened, all the information that's been put forward," Gabbard said Monday in South Carolina, according to ABC News.

"And just all the factors that go into really trying to figure out what is the best action to take for our country. And for democracy. It's not a simple or easy decision to make," she added.

All but three other Democrats voted in favor of both articles of impeachment.

Only Reps. Jefferson Van Drew (D-N.J.), who is expected to switch to the GOP in the coming days, and Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonWhy the Supreme Court must be kept at nine justices Kate Schroder in Ohio among Democratic challengers squelching GOP hopes for the House The Hill's Campaign Report: 19 years since 9/11 | Dem rival to Marjorie Taylor Greene drops out | Collin Peterson faces fight of his career | Court delivers blow to ex-felon voting rights in Florida MORE (D-Minn.) voted against both articles. Freshman Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine), who like Van Drew and Peterson represents a district that Trump carried in 2016, voted for the first article alleging abuse of power but against the second on obstruction of Congress.