IOWA CITY — U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful who visited Iowa City on Thursday night, defended meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2016 and her comments about him that some viewed as supportive.
She pointed to meetings between U.S. presidents and foreign leaders, including John F. Kennedy’s summit with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Donald Trump’s meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as examples of conversations that must happen to avoid “war and more war.”
“We have to have the courage to meet with whomever we need to, whether they be adversaries, or potential adversaries or friends, in the pursuit of peace and security,” she said during a press gaggle following a 30-minute speech at The Mill restaurant in Iowa City.
Gabbard, 37, was on a three-day visit to Iowa, her second time this year in the first-in-the-nation caucus state, looking to make her mark in a crowded field of contenders.
Weather complicated her visit, forcing her to delay and relocate an earlier meeting with veterans to her hotel lobby before reaching The Mill. She has events scheduled in Council Bluffs on Friday and Des Moines on Saturday as well as impromptu stops during her drive across the state, a campaign staffer said.
Gabbard promoted a platform that includes Medicare for all, criminal justice reform, including ending federal prohibition of marijuana and discouraging privatized prisons. She delivered a strong anti-war, anti-intervention message for “ending regime-change wars.”
“Stop throwing people in prison for smoking a joint and instead go after those like Purdue Pharma who are proliferating their opioids on our streets and taking people’s lives,” she said.
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The Hawaiian National Guard veteran, who was deployed twice to the Middle East, also has served in the Hawaii Legislature and the Honolulu City Council.
She said she opposes fracking and nuclear energy “because of the devastating impact they have on our planet.”
She called to stop those polluting soil and water and said she supports investment in green energy and green agriculture.
“I am passionate about protecting our planet and the precious resources we have,” she said.
Tom Carsner, 61, a Democratic activist from Iowa City, said Gabbard is a familiar face in Eastern Iowa, having attended several political events over the past few years. While not endorsing her, Carsner was pleased by some of her policy positions.
Marissa Varner, 29, of Coralville, said she connected with Gabbard, who arrived with greetings of aloha and wearing a white lei.
“I was overwhelmed by how human she was,” Varner said. “Many presidential candidates are disconnected. She’s a normal person that wants the same things we do.”
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