Tulsi Gabbard is only lawmaker to vote 'present' on Trump impeachment

The Democratic presidential candidate said she could not in "good conscience" vote for or against the articles.
Image: US-VOTE-2020-DEMOCRATS-DEBATE-POLITICS
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, speaks to reporters in the spin room after the fifth Democratic presidential primary debate in Atlanta on Nov. 20, 2019.Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images

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By Dareh Gregorian

In a surprise move, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a Democratic candidate for president, voted "present" Wednesday on both articles of impeachment charging President Donald Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

"After doing my due diligence in reviewing the 658-page impeachment report, I came to the conclusion that I could not in good conscience vote either yes or no," Gabbard said in a statement issued minutes after she voted.

She was the only House member in either party to vote present.

Although she had voted in favor of a resolution that moved the impeachment inquiry forward in October, she had not publicly said how she would on impeachment itself.

"I am standing in the center and have decided to vote Present. I could not in good conscience vote against impeachment because I believe President Trump is guilty of wrongdoing," she said. "I also could not in good conscience vote for impeachment because removal of a sitting President must not be the culmination of a partisan process, fueled by tribal animosities that have so gravely divided our country."

She added that it should be up to the American people to decide Trump's fate in November.

"I am confident that the American people will decide to deliver a resounding rebuke of President Trump's innumerable improprieties and abuses. And they will express that judgment at the ballot box," she said.

Democratic Reps. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Collin Peterson of Minnesota voted with Republicans on a procedural vote before the full vote on the articles of impeachment, and they then joined with the GOP to vote against the allegations the president abused his power and obstructed Congress.

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Van Drew announced his vote last week, leading to a thank-you tweet from the president and an invitation to join the Republican Party, an invitation that sources have told NBC News he's likely to accept.

"Always heard Jeff is very smart!" Trump tweeted.

Peterson had held his cards closer to the vest. His spokesperson told NBC News last week that he was undecided.

Van Drew and Peterson, who both represent districts that Trump won in 2016, were the only two Democrats who broke with their party in October, when House Democrats voted for a resolution to formalize the rules and procedures for the impeachment inquiry. The resolution passed 232-196.

Van Drew, a freshman, has consistently opposed impeachment.

"Without bipartisan support, I believe this inquiry will further divide the country, tearing it apart at the seams, and will ultimately fail in the Senate," he told NBC News in October.

Van Drew won his race in New Jersey's 2nd Congressional District in 2018 with 53 percent of the vote. Trump won the district in 2016 over Hillary Clinton with 51 percent of the vote.

Peterson, who's held his seat since 1991, represents a rural district that Trump won in 2016 by 30 points — the most Trump-friendly district in the country that also elected a Democratic representative.

He had complained in October that the House inquiry was "hopelessly partisan."

"Without support from Senate Republicans, going down this path is a mistake," he said at the time.

Peterson voted in favor of opening an impeachment inquiry into President Bill Clinton in 1998, but he wound up voting no on the actual articles of impeachment.

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of Trump's impeachment

Another Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, voted for impeaching the president for abuse of power but against the article on obstruction of Congress.

Golden, a freshman from a Republican-leaning district that Trump won by 10 points in 2016, explained his reasoning to his constituents in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

"While I do not dispute that the White House has been provocative in its defiance and sweeping in its claims of executive privilege, I also believe there are legitimate and unresolved constitutional questions about the limits of executive privilege, and that before pursuing impeachment for this charge, the House has an obligation to exhaust all other available options," he wrote.

No Republicans voted for impeachment, but a former Republican did. Justin Amash, I-Mich., voted in favor of both articles.

Amash left the GOP in July after the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's report initially led him to call for Trump's impeachment.

"No matter your circumstance, I'm asking you to join me in rejecting the partisan loyalties and rhetoric that divide and dehumanize us," Amash said in an Independence Day op-ed announcing his departure from the party. "If we continue to take America for granted, we will lose it."

Dartunorro Clark contributed.