Meet Tulsi Gabbard: Hawaiian congresswoman, army veteran, surfer, martial artist, and 2020 democratic candidate
- Hawaiian congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard's life story isn't an easy one to emulate.
- The 38-year-old, who grew up surfing and practicing martial arts, served in the army twice, was the youngest-ever member of the Hawaiian state legislature, met and refused to condemn Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and is not afraid to take a swing at much more established politicians.
- She doesn't always follow the party line, she's anti war intervention and, for a while, she was anti-gay marriage.
- Here's a closer look at her life and career to date, in photos.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
On January 11, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii announced she was running to be president of the United States.
At 38, the Democratic presidential candidate might be young but she's led a full life. She's an Iraq War veteran, a surfer, a congresswoman.
One of five siblings, she was born in American Samoa, before her family moved to Hawaii when she was two. Although she grew up an introvert, she has gone on to conquer her shyness and had a successful career in politics.
She's not afraid to look unpopular - she's defended Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. In the 2016 presidential race she backed Bernie Sanders over Hilary Clinton. She's called out both President Donald Trump and former president Barack Obama over things they've said, or failed to say.
But being an outspoken politician, especially at a young age, has had its drawbacks, too. Comments she made about LGBTQ communities and a job she held in the early 2000s have reemerged and she's apologized for them.
Here's the life, so far, of one of the Democratic party's most interesting candidates.
Tulsi Gabbard was born in Leloaloa, America Samoa, on April 12, 1981. She's Carol and Mike Gabbard's fourth child of five. Gabbard and her siblings were all given Hindu names and raised vegetarian.
When she was 2 years old, her family moved to Hawaii, where she grew up swimming and surfing.
In a profile for the New York Magazine, Gabbard is described as introverted, extremely quiet, and obedient growing up. She said a turning point came later when she realized her anxiety was coming from "a selfish place" and she started to see meeting people as "beautiful opportunities to share [her] aloha."
In Hawaii, she was home-schooled and started practicing martial arts. She has trained in Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art form and dance, for years.
Gabbard was political from an early age. As a teen, she co-found a non-profit called "Healthy Hawaii Coalition" after growing concerned about pollution in Hawaii. She developed a program that taught elementary school kids about protecting land and water.
She also appeared in a TV ad that her father Mike ran against same sex marriage in 1998. He ran a radio show called "Let’s Talk Straight Hawaii" that the station pulled. The family reportedly had to close their deli after people protested his views.
The Guardian described Mike Gabbard as a "polarizing local Hawaiian politician." He's been a state senator since 2006.
According to Honolulu Magazine, Gabbard often deflects questions about the influence of Chris Butler, a spiritual leader of an off-shoot from the Hare Krishna movement, on her family. Since the 1970s, the group has tried to field political candidates into important offices, including both of Gabbard's parents, The Huffington Post reported.
In 2002, when she was 21, Gabbard was the youngest-ever member elected to the Hawaii State Legislature. From 2002 to 2004, she served in Hawaii's House of Representatives, and from 2010 to 2012, she served on the Honolulu City Council.
She also found time to earn a degree in business administration from Hawaii Pacific University in 2009.
Motivated by 9/11, Gabbard joined the military. She served in a medical unit of the Hawaii Army National Guard in Iraq from 2004 to 2005 and was deployed again to Kuwait from 2008 to 2009, rising to the rank of major.
Between her two deployments, from 2007 and 2009, Gabbard was a legislative aide to Sen. Daniel Akaka, the first US Senator of native Hawaiian ancestry.
At 31, Gabbard ran for Congress and was elected to represent Hawaii's 2nd Congressional District in 2013. TV host Rachel Maddow said she was "on the fast track to being very famous," while Vogue published a profile of her with a headline asking if Gabbard was going to be the Democratic Party's next star.
She married freelance cinematographer Abraham Williams in 2015 after he proposed to her on a surfboard. She was previously married in 2002 to Eduardo Tamayo, but they divorced in 2006.
She's played some ball — in 2014 she played for a team of congresswoman against female journalists to fundraise money for young women with cancer. Team Congress won.
Gabbard doesn't always follow the party line. She goes on Fox News. She called out former President Barack Obama for not saying "Islamic extremism" and found support from far right political figures like Steve Bannon and former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke (she denounced Duke's endorsement).
In 2016, instead of backing frontrunner Hilary Clinton she showed her support for Bernie Sanders by resigning from her position as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee. She said she was uninvited from the party's first 2016 presidential debate because of her resignation and that it was "very dangerous" having those in power trying to quiet dissenting views.
In 2016, Tulsi Gabbard met with then President-elect Donald Trump to discuss foreign policy. Leaked documents showed she was being considered for secretary of veteran affairs. But, Gabbard's office told the Daily Beast she had no idea and was never asked about it.
In 2017, she met Syrian President Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Her office called it a fact-finding mission. While it wasn't an official meeting, it was the first time a US lawmaker sat down with Assad since the conflict began in Syria. She later said she would cover the costs of the trip.
After Trump launched a missile strike against airfields in Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed at least 80 civilians in April 2017, Gabbard called the strike "short-sighted," and said it would lead to "more dead civilians, more refugees ... and a possible nuclear war between the United States and Russia."
In February 2019, she doubled down on her opposition to US intervention in Syria, defending Assad, an accused war criminal. "Assad is not the enemy of the United States because Syria does not pose a direct threat to the United States," Gabbard said.
In a 2018 tweet, Gabbard called Trump "Saudi Arabia's b----" when the president supported Saudi Arabia after the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
On January 11, 2019, she announced she was running for president on CNN and with a video posted online. If elected, she would be the first female president.
Gabbard kicked off her campaign with an anti-war speech, and pointed the finger at both parties, saying both "never tire of war".
A week after she announced her run, Gabbard released a video apologizing for her previous statements and actions against LGBTQ communities. She's since said her views have changed and now fights for LGBTQ rights.
Tulsi's campaign centers on foreign policy. She's an anti-interventionist and opposes what she calls "regime change wars." If elected, she will keep the US out of them. She supports Sanders' Medicare plan. She would also end federal subsidies for oil companies and invest in renewable energy.
Gabbard supports legalizing marijuana. She helped introduce two bipartisan marijuana bills in early 2019.
In February 2019, after NBC News released a report suggesting Russian propagandists were backing Gabbard, she accused the media outlet of attempting to smear her as a "Kremlin stooge."
In March 2019, Stephen Colbert pressed Gabbard to say Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was a war criminal. But she wouldn't.
In the first democratic debate for 2019, Gabbard confused people by responding to a question on equal pay by discussing national security issues. "I enlisted in the Army National Guard after the Al-Qaeda terror attacks on 9/11, so I could go after those who attacked us on that day," she said.
She also had a memorable clash with Tim Ryan over US military presence in Afghanistan, correcting him when he said the Taliban were responsible for 9/11. "The Taliban didn’t attack us on 9/11, al Qaeda did," she said.
After the first debate, Gabbard was the most searched candidate on Google.
And she'll be back. She's locked in a spot for the second round of democratic debates in July.
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