WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep Tulsi Gabbard on Monday morning joined a long line of job-seekers mobbing President-elect Donald Trump at his headquarters in New York City, but her staff said Friday she’s not one of the ones looking for a post in the Trump administration.
In a statement issued shortly after the meeting, Gabbard said that she met with Trump at his request to speak about U.S. military policy in Syria and combatting terrorism. A veteran of two combat tours in Iraq, Gabbard serves on the House Committees on Armed Services and Foreign Affairs, and the subcommittees on readiness and seapower.
Gabbard previously voted for Republican-sponsored legislation that would have required more extensive background checks on Syrian refugees before they entered the country. She’s also criticized President Barack Obama for refusing to refer to certain terrorist attacks as the work of “Islamic extremism,” a stance that scored points for her with Republicans.
“Where I disagree with President-elect Trump on issues, I will not hesitate to express that disagreement,” Gabbard said in the statement. “However, I believe we can disagree, even strongly, but still come together on issues that matter to the American people and affect their daily lives. We cannot allow continued divisiveness to destroy our country.”
In his campaign, Trump said he intended to boost military preparedness and seapower, and said he would seek to limit U.S. armed intervention overseas.
Gabbard said that she believed it was important to reach out to Trump now “before the drumbeats of war that neocons have been beating drag us into an escalation of the war to overthrow the Syrian government.”
In the statement, Gabbard described the discussion as “frank and positive,” saying that she relayed her “grave concerns” about implementing a no-fly zone in Syria, a move she believes would escalate tension in the war-torn country.
“It would lead to more death and suffering, exacerbate the refugee crisis, strengthen ISIS and al-Qaeda, and bring us into a direct conflict with Russia which could result in a nuclear war,” Gabbard said. “We discussed my bill to end our country’s illegal war to overthrow the Syrian government, and the need to focus our precious resources on rebuilding our own country, and on defeating al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist groups who pose a threat to the American people.”
The meeting occurred at a time of increasingly poisonous political discourse that brands cross-party communication as evil.
In Washington D.C., Gabbard is viewed as one of the most politically liberal politicians in the country but in Hawaii she is seen as politically suspect by the state’s mainstream Democratic establishment. The idiosyncratic legislator’s endorsement of Sen. Bernie Sanders for president during the primaries instead of Hillary Clinton was a public repudiation of party stalwarts. Gabbard did endorse Clinton in the general election.
Gabbard is believed to be a potential political threat to U. S. Sen. Mazie Hirono and may seek to unseat her in the 2018 election. Attracting more attention on the national stage could help propel Gabbard’s political career in Hawaii and elsewhere.
Responding to a question from a reporter, Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway told reporters Monday that Gabbard and Trump found “a lot of common ground,” she said. “I think they both understood the country very well.”
Conway said that Trump was holding meetings with “people coming in from all over the country, meeting with him to give them their advice, their counsel, their experience, their vision for the country. Some of which will result in appointments to his administration and some just wish to be helpful.”
Rumors had been circulating in Democratic Party circles in Hawaii that Gabbard was trolling for a job in the Trump administration. On Friday, Gabbard’s spokeswoman Emily Latimer said in an email that there was “nothing to the rumor.”
But on Monday, CNN reported Gabbard is being considered for posts at the State Department, Defense Department or as a United Nations ambassador.
Civil Beat reporter Nick Grube contributed to this story.
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A Kailua girl, Kirstin Downey is a special correspondent for Civil Beat. A longtime reporter for The Washington Post, she is the author of "The Woman Behind the New Deal," "Isabella the Warrior Queen" and an upcoming biography of King Kaumualii of Kauai. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.