Democratic Leadership Silent on Gabbard's Meeting With Assad


Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, (D., Hawaii) / AP
January 26, 2017

Democratic congressional leadership apparently had no prior knowledge of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard's (D., Hawaii) trip earlier this month to Syria, where she met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Gabbard discussed her secret trip with CNN's Jake Tapper on Wednesday. She said that she had not originally planned to meet with Assad, but ended up doing so while in Syria. During the interview, Gabbard described much of the Syrian opposition fighting the Assad regime as "terrorists," echoing comments made by the Syrian, Russian, and Iranian governments about the conflict. The United States supports moderate groups in Syria that are vetted before receiving assistance from the West.

When contacted about Gabbard's trip, Democratic leadership was silent, the Guardian reported Thursday. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) did not respond to the Guardian's requests for comment. However, before it was revealed that Gabbard met with Assad, Pelosi said that she had no knowledge of the trip.

The office of Rep. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, did respond to the Guardian.

"Mr. Engel's position on Assad is well established," spokesman Tim Mulvey said. "He's a war criminal and a murderer, he has supported and benefited from terrorism, he has close ties to Russia, and he cannot have a role in Syria's future."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), who Gabbard strongly supported in the Democratic primary for president, did not respond to requests for comment either.

Gabbard was the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee until she decided last year to leave her position to actively support Sanders, a self-declared socialist, over Hillary Clinton. The DNC also would not respond to the Guardian's requests for comment.

Reaction to Gabbard's news was swift from Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R., Ill.), who, like Gabbard, is an Iraq War veteran. Kinzinger lambasted Gabbard for siding with Assad in Syria's conflict.

Former presidential candidate and CIA operative Evan McMullin also slammed Gabbard's trip while taking a swipe at President Trump's policy on Syria.

Gabbard continues to attempt to defend her visit to Syria as standing up for the country's civilians. She voted in 2015 against allowing refugees into the United States from Syria.

Assad is widely believed to have targeted Syrian civilians by using chemical weapons and with airstrikes targeted against hospitals and other civilian infrastructure in rebel-held areas.

Update 10:32 PM: This story was updated to include comment from Rep. Eliot Engel's spokesman, who responded to the Guardian.