As the progressive activist and commentator Jim Hightower of Texas has famously said, "There's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos."
"To not take a stand one way or another in a day of such grave consequence to this country is quite difficult. We're here to lead." —Rep. Alexandria Ocasio (D-NY)And, one might add to that, Democratic Congresswomen Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.
On Wednesday night, Gabbard became the first member of Congress in U.S. history to vote "present" on the question of impeaching a sitting president.
"I am standing in the center and have decided to vote present," Gabbard said in a statement.
"I could not in good conscience vote against impeachment because I believe President Trump is guilty of wrongdoing," Gabbard explained. "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."
A house divided cannot stand. And today we are divided. Fragmentation and polarity are ripping our country apart. Today, I come before you to make a stand for the center, to appeal to all of you to bridge our differences and stand up for the American people. #StandWithTulsi pic.twitter.com/wAvu8PXNoB
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) December 19, 2019
For many Democrats, however, it was an untenable and unwise position for Gabbard—also running to become the party's presidential nominee—to take.
"I really think it was not a smart choice for her politically," said fellow House Democrat, Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, during an interview on Democracy Now. "I thought that was very disappointing and, frankly, a cop out."
.@RepJayapal criticizes Hawaii Congressmember and presidential candidate @TulsiGabbard for voting "present" on impeachment. "I really think it was not a smart choice for her politically," Jayapal says. "I thought that was very disappointing and, frankly, a cop out." pic.twitter.com/sSxRHaoWSf
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— Democracy Now! (@democracynow) December 19, 2019
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), as The Daily Beast reports, told reporters after the vote that "to not take a stand one way or another in a day of such grave consequence to this country is quite difficult. We're here to lead."
Instead of impeaching Trump, Gabbard has called for the president to be censured, an official rebuke by the House but devoid of tangible consequences. Her decision to vote "present" on the impeachment articles before the U.S. House, however, was historic.
When President Bill Clinton was formally impeached by the U.S. House in 1998, there were four articles brought against him. While two of the articles were approved and two failed, largely along party lines, no member of Congress voted simply "present" on any of the counts. When President Andrew Johnson faced impeachment in 1867, the final House vote was 128 in favor to 47 who opposed. While the U.S. House was much smaller at the time, there were no votes for "present" recorded as the House sent the articles of impeachment to U.S. Senate for trial.
Tulsi Gabbard is only the 20th member of the House in history not to vote on articles of impeachment against a sitting president, and the first ever to vote “present.” https://t.co/l5Wa7xq9dL
— Scott Bixby (@scottbix) December 19, 2019
Journalist Matt Fuller, political correspondent for HuffPost, commented that Gabbard's vote was indicative of a politician who has proven "a knack for pissing BOTH SIDES off."
Many Democratic voters and pundits were furious with Gabbard's position as the congresswoman's name, and the derisive hashtag #GabbardIsACoward, were both trending on social media Thursday morning.