Gabbard votes 'present' on impeaching Trump

Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardFive takeaways from new fundraising reports for 2020 Democrats Overnight Defense: GOP lawmaker takes unannounced trip to Syria | Taliban leader pens New York Times op-ed on peace talks | Cheney blasts paper for publishing op-ed GOP lawmaker makes unannounced trip to northeastern Syria MORE (D-Hawaii), who is running for president, voted “present” on impeaching President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff blasts Trump for making 'false claims' about Russia intel: 'You've betrayed America. Again.' Poll: Sanders leads 2020 Democratic field with 28 percent, followed by Warren and Biden More than 6 in 10 expect Trump to be reelected: poll 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-CortezOcasio-Cortez claps back after article on her dress: 'Sequins are a great accessory to universal healthcare' Democrats working to ensure Trump's second term Ocasio-Cortez announces slate of all-female congressional endorsements 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 CohenClinton advises checking your voter registration during Trump's State of the Union Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley to boycott State of the Union 10 Democrats to boycott Trump State of the Union address 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 PelosiTrump's Intel moves spark Democratic fury Buttigieg sounds alarm after Sanders wins Nevada Russian interference reports rock Capitol Hill 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 PetersonSenate votes to acquit Trump on articles of impeachment Biden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements The Hill's Morning Report - Dems to lay out impeachment case to senators next week 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.