WASHINGTON, D.C. — Presidential candidate, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard — the first ever Hindu American elected to the U.S. Congress —has strongly denied that her lashing out against U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris — the first Indian American elected to the U.S. Senate — during the July 31 Democratic presidential debate, was politically motivated and not a desperate attempt to be relevant and capture the headlines, when she’s hardly a blip on the radar of any of the national polls.
During a teleconference with members of the ethnic media from across the country on Aug.2, Gabbard also bristled over Harris’s condescending dismissal of her criticism with regard to her (Harris’s) prosecutorial record during her tenure as California’s Attorney General.
Responding to questions by India Abroad, Gabbard said that Harris’s shrugging off her questions during the debate and the latter’s refusal to apologize to the victims who had been imprisoned and suffered because of Harris’s prosecutorial directives and actions “is frankly a disservice to voters.”
She argued that the fact “that Sen. Harris refuses to answer for the record she claims to be proud o as Attorney General—a record that includes making decisions and taking actions that have resulted in further hardship and harm to people in her state of California, where she had the opportunity to truly be a champion for the people,” was a slap in the face of California’s populace.
Gabbard asserted that when she had this opportunity to be an Attorney General for all people of California, “instead, she made decisions that further oppressed and perpetuated what is so unjust and harmful about our criminal justice.”
She told India Abroad, “I won’t take the time to go into those examples as I said on the debate stage, but there are a number of other examples that have very clearly been outlined by people who worked with her, for her, and people who have been victims of the decisions that she made as Attorney General.”
Thus, Gabbard reiterated, “It’s unfortunate that she and her campaign have chosen to dismiss the concerns that voters have around this very important issue of criminal justice reform because really what this speaks to is, what kind of leadership she would bring as she speaks about being a prosecutor president.”
“For her campaign, she claims to be a candidate and a champion for the people, but again, when she was in a position to make a positive impact –a position of great power—she, instead, abused that power to further oppress people in her home state, and particularly disproportionately impacting poor people and our black and brown sisters.”
Gabbard said, “So, to close that out, for people to say that this is just about politics, that’s really a slap in the face of voters and to people who have been negatively impacted—that is about real people’s lives, which is why I raised the issue, which is something I think many people in our country and that is something that I as president will seek to reform.”
She vowed that she would do this by “working with Congress, working with Democrats and Republicans, to bring about the kind of criminal justice reform that will make sure that it’s a truly fair and just system that stops the targeting of minorities in the country.”
The attacks against Harris by Gabbard during the debate was the spilling out of a feud that had been brewing for some time as Harris and Gabbard continued to compete for the fund-raising dollars of the Indian American community, with Harris in the past few weeks catching up with Gabbard, who had initially raised more than double the amount Harris had received from the Indian American community.
Gabbard, in a note to her donors and supporters a day after the debate had informed than that “my team just told me that our campaign has blown past the 130,000 unique donor threshold to qualify for the September debates,” and said that “with your help, we can build on this momentum and pass 150,000 donors this weekend!”
She said, “I’m so proud of where this underdog, people-powered campaign has been, and more importantly, where we’re headed,” and claimed, “In just 24 hours, we have had our biggest fundraising day of the campaign, crossed the 130,000 unique donor threshold, with more than 1,000 donors from over 30 states, and for the second time, become the most googled candidate of my debate.”
Gabbard said, “When I challenged Kamala Harris for her problematic criminal justice record, it wasn’t to make headlines. It was because I will always stand up for what is right and true, and call out whoever I need to, for the people.”
“Now, the establishment is doing all they can to ignore and marginalize my campaign. But in 2020, they will again be reminded that in our democracy, it is the American people who choose our president, not the rich, powerful elite.”
Even before the debate, Gabbard had baited Harris by saying that the latter “"is not qualified to serve as commander-in-chief" and that "I can say this from a personal perspective as a soldier," the Iraq War veteran said.
"Kamala Harris is not qualified to serve as commander-in-chief, and I can say this from a personal perspective as a soldier. She has no background or experience in foreign policy, and she lacks the temperament that is necessary for commander-in-chief," Gabbard said in an interview with Fox Sports Radio.
"I have seen the cost of war first hand and experienced the consequences of what happens when we have presidents from both political parties in the White House who lack experience and lack that foreign policy understanding, who therefore fall under the influence of the foreign policy establishments and military industrial complex," she said, and added, "This is what is so dangerous and what we’ve seen over time."
But Lily Adams, Harris' communications director, hit back, telling CNN, the campaign would take a "definite hard pass on taking national security advice from (Syrian dictator Bashir el-) Assad’s cheerleader.”
Even earlier, Gabbard had targeted Harris, and in early July, she slammed Harris for her viral exchange with Democratic presidential front-runner, former vice president Joe Biden in the first Democratic presidential debate, for his support for segregationist U.S. Senators against the government mandated school busing.
"Really, what she's saying is her position is the same one she was criticizing Joe Biden for. So, this is just a political ploy, and I think a very underhanded one just to try to get herself attention — to move herself up in the polls," Gabbard told CBS News. "I think that we need to be above that — all of us."
When asked by CBS News if she thought there was too much focus on racial issues, Gabbard said, "I think there are still racial injustices and inequalities that exist in this country that we need to address. I think it's important for us to look forward toward the future to see how we can come together as a country — how we can break down these injustices and inequalities and come together and work toward a brighter future. Every single candidate will need to stand up and speak out and defend their own record."
Gabbard had also tweeted that Harris’s going after Biden was inappropriate,” writing that "I agree with [former president Barack Obama’s chief political adviser David] Axelrod. But let's get real. It wasn't a 'whole thing' — it was a false accusation that Joe Biden is a racist."
But at that time, Ian Sams, a spokesman for the Harris campaign, pointed out that what Harris "literally said in the debate, 'I do not believe you are a racist,'" when she began her debate with Biden.
Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that Indian Americans have donated in excess of $3 million to various campaigns and that that figure exceeds contributions from coveted donors of Hollywood.
It said, “On the Democratic side, they are largely split among three candidates who have ties to their community: Sen. Kamala Harris of California, whose mother was born in India; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a practicing Hindu; and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who counts a large Indian American population among his constituents.”
The newspaper added, “The trio has targeted these wealthy donors from coast to coast,” and added, “Harris, who is the only major presidential candidate with Indian heritage, has raised more than $387,000 from the Indian American community for her 2020 bid, more than any other Democrat in the race,” according to a Times analysis from recent financial disclosures by the respective campaigns.
Gabbard was a close second with more than $374,000, the Times added, and noted, “Indian Americans represent just over 1 percent of the U.S. population, but in recent years, they have grown increasingly politically active, donating more to candidates and running for office.”
“Reflecting the community’s leftward tilt, two-thirds of the more than $3 million donated throughout the 2020 election cycle has gone to Democrats,” the newspaper added, and said, “Indian Americans have also donated more than $1 million to committees supporting President Trump.”
The Times said, “Though Indian American voters strongly trend Democratic, a vocal minority has embraced the president,” and that “they cite his positions on the economy and fighting Islamist terrorism, an issue their motherland has struggled with for decades.”
During the teleconference, asked by India Abroad as to why the Indian American community should support her and vote for her as president, Gabbard was more generic in her response.
“I am continuing to reach out to people across the country—people of all different races, religions, ethnicities—recognizing the power that we have as people with our own voices,” she said.