By Paul Steinhauser
Published March 22, 2019
CONCORD, N.H. -- She may have been a top supporter of firebrand Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, but Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is on the fence these days when it comes to a series of far-reaching and controversial proposals being embraced by her 2020 Democratic rivals.
The four-term Hawaii Democrat, national guard officer and Iraq War veteran appeared to push back both on calls to eliminate the Electoral College and scrap the Senate’s filibuster rule – two longstanding political traditions and institutions – in an interview Friday.
At the same time, Gabbard highlighted her support for reparations for descendants of slaves.
Asked about the Electoral College, Gabbard said “there are reforms that need to take place to make it so that our votes are being cast and counted and represented in the outcome of our elections. I think there are pro and cons to the existing Electoral College and to getting rid of it. What I would think would be important is for us to have a conversation about how we can best move forward.”
But Gabbard seemed to jab at fellow Democrats, saying, “I think it’s unfortunate that too often these calls for changes come about by the side that has lost or suffered as a result of the Electoral College.”
An increasing number of Gabbard’s rivals for the nomination have been supportive of scrapping the Electoral College and having the national popular vote determine the winner of presidential elections.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton topped then-Republican nominee Donald Trump by nearly 3 million votes in the 2016 election, but Trump won the presidency thanks to his convincing margin in the Electoral College.
Gabbard also is not sold on scrapping the filibuster, the longstanding Senate tradition requiring 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to advance a bill, effectively allowing the minority party to block legislation.
“This is a conversation I think that’s important for the American people to have,” she said.
Gabbard added that it’s “important for us to look at how we solve this or make changes that are not based on partisanship. Often it is the party that is in the minority that is calling for bringing about those changes and then once they get into the majority, they say ‘no, absolutely not. We’re not going to change this.’”
At the moment, the filibuster is actually helping Senate Democrats, enabling its members to slow or stall legislation that the GOP Senate majority and Trump White House might support. The president himself has called for an end to the filibuster, only to be met with opposition from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Democrats hoping to pass a sweeping progressive agenda if they win back the White House are concerned their proposals could get bottlenecked in the Senate, where the Democrats have a shot at winning back control -- but have little chance of grabbing a 60-member, filibuster-proof majority.
While Gabbard has reservations about eliminating the Electoral College and the Senate’s filibuster, she’s on board with another controversial idea being pushed by some primary rivals -- financial reparations for descendants of slaves.
“I’ve actually co-sponsored a bill – HR40 in the House of Representatives – that would put together a commission that would look at the damage that has occurred because of our country’s dark history with slavery and to figure out what is the best way to bring about those reparations,” she told Fox News. “I think we need to bring about reparations, it’s really a question of what is the right way and how.”
Gabbard was interviewed during a jam-packed three-day swing through New Hampshire, the state that holds the first primary in the race for the White House.
The Granite State was Sanders country in the 2016 Democratic primary. The independent senator from neighboring Vermont crushed Hillary Clinton in the state’s primary, launching him into a marathon battle with the eventual Democratic presidential nominee.
Asked how she could compete in New Hampshire for Sanders supporters, Gabbard quickly answered that “this is about something ... much bigger than just one person.”