Right now, far more serious and learned journalists than I are asking whether Hawaii’s congressional delegation is split. Sadly, the answer is no. Real political splits are bloody and hilarious, but what’s going in Washington between our state’s four congressional representatives hardly rises to that level.
The reason local political journalists are buzzing around is that on Mar. 6, Hawaii’s Representative Tulsi Gabbard, D-2nd District, voted for a budget bill that Republicans sponsored and the Democratic leadership hates. On the surface, this looks like the freshman Gabbard is playing risky games normally reserved for veteran pols. Except that a couple points mentioned in a Mar. 6 Honolulu Civil Beat article make the whole thing a non-story.
First, and foremost, Civil Beat reports that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gave Gabbard permission to vote her way. “A spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democratic leaders gave members leeway to vote as they chose on the bill and had no problem with Gabbard’s vote,” Civil Beat reported. What’s more, 52 other House Democrats sided with the Republicans on that bill, which passed.
Gabbard put out a statement saying she voted for the bill because “it provides important funds for our men and women serving overseas, our military-related jobs in Hawaii, and it works to avert a government shutdown, protecting our economy from yet another self-manufactured crisis.” For someone who currently holds the rank of captain in the Hawaii National Guard, and has long paid tribute to military service, supporting a budget bill that gives the Pentagon at least some of the money it wants is not in the least surprising. Gabbard may be a progressive vote on social and environmental issues, but on defense she’s solidly pro-military.
Curiously, none of this was mentioned during a Mar. 11 Civil Beat video discussion between the news site’s Washington correspondent Kery Murakami (who wrote the original Mar. 6 story on Gabbard’s vote) and Civil Beat political writer Chad Blair. Instead, the discussion went on as though Gabbard’s vote were in some way an act of political disobedience. Indeed, it focused on the potential long-term consequences for Gabbard from her vote, including how it might affect her (and fellow Democratic Congressional member Colleen Hanabusa) in next year’s race for the Senate seat currently held by Democrat Brian Schatz.
Please. When Gabbard votes against Pelosi’s expressed wishes, or wags her finger at Hanabusa during a House floor speech, then we can start talking political split.
Now if you want to raise questions about Gabbard, let’s parse her Mar. 8 press release on targeted drone killings. That statement is written so carefully you’d think she was walking through a graveyard–which is pretty close to the truth.
The statement came in response to a long filibuster conducted by U.S. Senator Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, on whether President Barack Obama was asserting that he had the legal authority to use drones to target and kill American citizens on U.S. soil. After the filibuster, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder released a brief statement stating that, no, Obama did not have that power.
“I applaud the Administration for clarifying that drone strikes on non-combatant American citizens on U.S. soil are not and will not be authorized,” Gabbard said in a Mar. 8 press release.
The problem is that, Paul’s zeal notwithstanding, his attention on drones missed the mark on the ugly truth about our nation’s use of pilotless aircraft in war. The U.S. has used drones in warfare for many decades, but the recent controversy centers around the flying of Hellfire missile-armed, unmanned aircraft that have been deployed over the last decade to blow up suspected terrorists around the world. To date, the U.S. has killed a few hundred non-combatant citizens overseas. Some were Americans. What’s more, since Obama took office, at least three American citizens have been targeted and killed with drones–though again, not on U.S. territory.
This idea that we simply send our drones to kill suspected terrorists, including those born in the U.S. and thus subject to due process, is loathsome. The missiles often incinerate innocent people. But targeted drone killings are also current U.S. policy, irrespective of any proposed congressional debate or filibuster.
Knowing that, we can marvel at the bobs and weaves in the latter half of Gabbard’s Mar. 8 drone statement:
“I understand firsthand the value of using counter-terrorism warfare tactics and strategies overseas in dealing with 21st century threats,” she said. “But these tactics should never be used against our own citizens here at home. Just as U.S. law enforcement strategies do not apply in war with a foreign enemy, drone strikes and other counter-terrorism tactics should not be targeting non-combatant U.S. citizens.”
“I think there’s no question that the use of drones in civilian causalities is absolutely wrong, as well as the use of drones against American citizens who have the right to due process within our own system,” she told the think tank.
And that’s the all of Gabbard’s Mar. 8 statement on drones. She said much the same thing on Meet the Press on Mar. 10, insisting that drone attacks needed to occur over “enemy territory.” Gabbard is saying that she supports the use of drones to kill suspected terrorists, including those born in the U.S., as long as it happens overseas. Her use of qualifiers like “at home” and “non-combatant” make that clear.
This is identical to current U.S. policy. It’s also at odds with statements Gabbard made just a few months ago.
Before she won the 2012 election, Gabbard gave an interview to the think tank Institute for Policy Studies. In that interview, published on Nov. 12, 2012, Gabbard spoke at length on the issue of drone killings. While still supporting them, she mentioned a caveat that did not appear in her recent statement, issued long after her election was over.
Sorry, but that’s a very different view than the one she articulated on Mar. 8. Before the election, Gabbard said clearly that she opposed launching drones against any Americans, domestic or abroad, because they had “the right to due process.” But now, she seems to be saying that it’s only bad to target “non-combat U.S. citizens.”
Did Gabbard’s view on drone killings change once she took office? Or was the importance she placed on due process merely a product of running for office in an extremely liberal state?
When asked for clarification, Heather Fluitt, Gabbard’s press secretary, emailed this non-response response:
“Thank you for your question,” Fluitt emailed. “Her statement addresses your question. Her reference to their domestic use is in direct response to the Administration’s clarification of that point.”
All clear now?