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Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who announced over the weekend that she is running for president in 2020, is facing renewed scrutiny over her past comments on LGBT issues and a controversial meeting with Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad.
Gabbard, a major in the Army National Guard who was first elected to Congress in 2012, told CNN’s Van Jones in an interview on Saturday that she will be making a formal announcement of her candidacy “within the next week.”
But within days of her decision, Gabbard is now facing questions over her work in the early 2000’s for an anti-gay organization run by her father, Mike Gabbard.
A review of Gabbard’s past political engagements published by CNN’s KFile found that while Gabbard was running for the state legislature at the age of 21, she touted work she did alongside her father to help pass a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Hawaii.
“Working with my father, Mike Gabbard, and others to pass a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage, I learned that real leaders are willing to make personal sacrifices for the common good. I will bring that attitude of public service to the legislature,” Gabbard said in an interview at the time with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
The review also found that the group led by Mike Gabbard supported the practice of conversion therapy, which treats homosexuality as a mental illness. The practice is banned in 14 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit think tank.
Responding to the story, Gabbard stressed that her views on LGBT issues have evolved dramatically over time and referenced work that she has done since to strengthen the rights of the community.
“First, let me say I regret the positions I took in the past, and the things I said. I’m grateful for those in the LGBTQ+ community who have shared their aloha with me throughout my personal journey,” Gabbard wrote in a statement first provided to CNN and confirmed by ABC News.
“Over the past six years in Congress, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to help work toward passing legislation that ensures equal rights and protections on LGBTQ+ issues, such as the Equality Act, the repeal of DOMA, Restore Honor to Servicemembers Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Equality for All Resolution. Much work remains to ensure equality and civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ Americans and if elected President, I will continue to fight for equal rights for all,” she added.
The negative headlines threaten to derail a presidential campaign that has yet to even have a formal announcement, even with Gabbard’s reputation as a rising star within the Democratic Party.
The congresswoman also served as a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 campaign but resigned the position in order to support Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, aligning herself with his populist economic message.
But it is not just her past work on LGBT issues that is facing criticism.
During her interview with CNN’s Jones, Gabbard was also pressed on on her controversial meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2017.
Gabbard, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said she understands “how important it is for our national security… that we’ve got to be willing to have those conversations, to meet with people, whether they are adversaries, potential adversaries, friends, because if we are not willing to have those conversations, the only alternative is more war, more suffering, more devastation, more lives lost.”
The congresswoman also discussed President Trump’s decision to pull troops from Syria, calling the move “wise.”
Gabbard has not given an exact date for a formal announcement of her presidential candidacy but is one of the most prominent Democrats to announce thus far, in addition to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (who has formed a presidential exploratory committee), and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro.