In a striking exchange during Wednesday’s Democratic primary debate in Atlanta, Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) questioned Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s allegiance to the Democratic party and criticized Gabbard’s support for dictators and frequent appearances on Fox News.
Gabbard had declared moments earlier that the foreign policy establishment in Washington had co-opted the Democratic Party — calling out former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by name — and vowed to end “regime change wars.” Harris, who has sparred with Gabbard in earlier debates, responded by lambasting Gabbard for her history of cozying up to Republicans and conservative media.
“It’s unfortunate that we have someone on this stage who is attempting to be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States who, during the Obama administration, spent four years full time on Fox News criticizing President Obama ― who spent four years criticizing people on this stage… [who], when Donald Trump was elected, not even sworn-in, buddied up to Steve Bannon to get a meeting with Donald Trump in the Trump tower,” Harris said.
Gabbard has frequently criticized the Democratic party’s foreign policy, painting it as bent on “regime change wars” and military intervention. But although Gabbard often casts herself as an anti-war candidate, she has supported drone strikes and describes herself as a “hawk” when it comes to targeting terror groups. Meanwhile, she has repeatedly defended or praised nationalist and authoritarian leaders such as Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who she claims are defending their countries against Islamist extremists.
Harris attacked Gabbard’s defense of Assad during the debate, saying that she “fails to call a war criminal by what he is as a war criminal.” South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg also condemned Gabbard’s meeting with Assad, saying, “I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator like that.”
Gabbard has floated a 9/11 conspiracy theory during the campaign, in a message that echoed the kind of anti-Islamic fear-mongering that Trump often promotes. While in Congress, she has supported a GOP bill that would block the admission of Syrian refugees fleeing the so-called Islamic State.
Gabbard defended herself against Harris’ claim that she was in league with Republican interests.
“What Senator Harris is doing is continuing to traffic in lies and smears and innuendos, because she cannot challenge the substance of the argument that I am making,” Gabbard said.
Soon after the exchange, a Twitter account managed by Trump’s 2020 campaign tweeted a clip of Gabbard saying, “our Democratic Party, unfortunately, is not the party that is of, by and for the people.”