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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Townhall with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI). Aired 8-9p ET
Aired March 10, 2019 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BASH: Welcome back to Austin, Texas. We are live at South by Southwest for our second CNN Democratic presidential town hall of the evening. Up now, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.
I'm Dana Bash. Tonight, a conversation with a candidate who would make history. Thirty-seven-year-old Tulsi Gabbard would be the youngest president, the first woman in the Oval Office, and Major Gabbard would also be the first Iraq War veteran to serve as commander-in-chief. She'll take questions from Democrats and independents who say they plan to vote in the Democratic primaries.
Without further ado, please welcome Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.
GABBARD: Thank you. How are you, Dana? Aloha. How are you, Dana?
BASH: Hi. Welcome. Nice to see you.
GABBARD: Nice to see you. Thank you very much.
BASH: Have a seat.
BASH: So, let's start with what's around your neck, because...
BASH: My understanding is that you generally wear your lei when you're in Hawaii. We're not in Hawaii.
GABBARD: We are not. But I was fortunate enough to meet up with some folks from Hawaii yesterday. They were very kind enough to bring me a fresh lei from Hawaii. So I put it in the fridge and prayed that it would survive the night and it did.
BASH: It looks great.
GABBARD: And here we are.
BASH: OK. We're going to get to the audience. But I just have to give you a little secret. So we were -- in the prep for this, we were talking about how to pronounce the Hawaiian state fish.
GABBARD: Aha. BASH: Which apparently is a thing. I'm not just sort of doing this
out of nowhere.
GABBARD: Are you ready to...
BASH: I'm ready. Can you do it?
GABBARD: I can do it. Can you?
BASH: Absolutely not. I'm from New Jersey.
BASH: Go for it.
GABBARD: Let me ask. How many people here know the state fish from Hawaii? Yeah? You want to say it with me? One, two, three. Humuhumunukunukuapua'a.
BASH: That's impressive.
GABBARD: There's a more simple one, though. Let's start with -- can we hear a big aloha for everybody? Aloha.
GABBARD: There we go. That one's easier.
BASH: Well, let's say aloha to everybody in the audience. And we want to talk to the voters. Let's start with Cynthia Machata, who is from Connecticut. She works in marketing and communications.
QUESTION: Hi, Congressman. My question for you tonight is about anti-interventionist. So you've been known for being anti- interventionist, which is the U.S. not going into wars that are backing anti-regime or regime change. But yet you do fight in the military. And thank you for your service.
GABBARD: Thank you.
BASH: But my question for you is, how can you both be an anti- interventionist and also serve in the military?
GABBARD: Thank you. Thank you very much for this important question that is personal to me but is important to all of us as Americans. I'm a soldier. I have served now in the Army National Guard now for nearly 15 years. I'm a major, and I've deployed twice to the Middle East. In Congress, I've served on the Foreign Affairs Committee, in the Armed Services Committee, Homeland Security Committees now for over the last six years. So I have a very personal understanding as well as an understanding from Washington about the cost of war and who pays the price.
During my first deployment to Iraq, I served in a medical unit where my very first task every single day was to go through a list of names of every single American servicemember who had been injured in combat the day before. This was the first thing I did every day for the year that I was deployed. And every day, seeing in such a heart-wrenching way who pays the price, and my brothers and sisters who never made that trip home, who paid that ultimate price, and those who did, coming home with wounds, both visible and invisible, that they would continue to struggle with for years after.
My position and my commitment in fighting to end these counterproductive regime change wars is based on these experiences and my understanding the cost of war and who pays the price. Yes, it is our service members. It is our troops. It is our military families. It is the people in these countries where these wars are waged whose suffering ends up far worse after we launch these regime-change wars.
But it is also every single one of us here. Every single American is paying for these wars through our taxpayer dollars, trillions of our taxpayer dollars being spent, dollars that should be used to invest in and to meet the needs and serve the needs of people here at home, to pay for things like health care and education, to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.
So as a soldier, I stand ready to serve and protect and defend this country. And as a soldier, I know the cost of war. And as president and commander-in-chief, I will end these regime-change wars. I will work to end this new Cold War and this nuclear arms race that is costing us trillions and, again, take those resources, those limited resources, and use them to serve the needs of people here.
BASH: Congresswoman, which wars would you end when you're -- I mean, that's a lot that you just laid out there.
GABBARD: It is a lot. But this is the threat that we're facing. Regime-change wars that we are seeing still being carried out in Syria, regime-change wars that this current administration is threatening to carry out in countries like Venezuela, laying down the groundwork to carry out a regime-change war in Iran. We see throughout decades how this policy has persisted through both Democrat and Republican administrations and the negative impact that these wars have caused.
BASH: Congresswoman, you mentioned Syria. We actually have a question on that. I want to bring in Jessica James, a consultant from New Jersey.
QUESTION: Thank you. Do you remain skeptical as you were in 2017 that Bashar al-Assad used chemical warfare against Syrian civilians?
GABBARD: I want to correct that, because there has been some misunderstanding. There have been reports showing that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, both by the Syrian government as well as different terrorist groups on the ground in Syria.
The skepticism and the questions that I raised were very specific around incidents that the Trump administration was trying to use as an excuse to launch a U.S. military attack in Syria.
Now, I served in a war in Iraq, a war that was launched based on lies and a war that was launched without evidence.
And so the American people were duped. So as a soldier, as an American, as a member of Congress, it is my duty and my responsibility to exercise skepticism any time anyone tries to send our servicemembers into harm's way or use our military to go in and start a new war.
BASH: May I just ask a follow-up about that?
Because, Congresswoman, the Defense Department, the United Nations agree that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own people. So as president, would you trust the conclusions of your government?
GABBARD: Well, like I said, we have, in our recent past, a situation where our own government told lies to the American people as an -- and to the United Nations, for that matter, to launch a war. So what I'm saying is it is our responsibility to exercise due diligence, to ask the tough questions, to get the evidence before we make those very costly decisions about how and when and where our military is used.
BASH: While we're on the topic of Syria...
... this week, Syrian refugees in Jordan, they requested that the first international criminal court case against the Syrian government commence. You met Bashar al-Assad in 2017. Do you believe that Assad is a war criminal?
GABBARD: I think that the evidence needs to be gathered and, as I have said before, if there is evidence that he has committed war crimes, he should be prosecuted as such.
BASH: But you're not sure now?
GABBARD: Everything that I have said requires that we take action based on evidence. If the evidence is there, there should be accountability.
BASH: OK, we want to get to our next audience question. It comes from Beth Genler, who is the executive director of the National Council of Jewish Women in Minnesota and also the daughter of a Holocaust survivor.
GABBARD: Thank you, Beth.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Congresswoman. As a co-founder of the Muslim and Jewish Women of Minnesota Policy Collaborative, I'm troubled by the increase in both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism that's infecting discourse on both sides of the political aisle. Regardless of where it comes from, it puts both of our communities in real danger. As president, what can you do in terms of policy and position to combat racism and bigotry, no matter where it comes from?
GABBARD: Thank you. Thank you, Beth, and thank you for your leadership in this area.
And this is so important. We see incidents occurring far too often where there is not only hateful words and bigotry, but actual violence being used against people because of the color of our skin or the way that we choose to worship.
As a practicing Hindu, I have been on the receiving end of Hindu- phobia and bigoted attacks. The very first time that I ran for Congress in 2012, my Republican opponent at that time said on television that I was not qualified to serve in Congress because my being a Hindu contradicted the United States Constitution.
Unfortunately, even now as I stand before you here today and running for president, those Hindu-phobic attacks continue. Attacks against Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, people of all different religions cannot be allowed to stand. And what is most important is to lead from the front.
Yes, as president of the United States, I will do that in calling out and condemning those bigoted attacks. But this is something that each and every one of us has the opportunity to do when we are confronted with such bigotry. It is only when we stand together and speak out against and condemn this kind of bigotry and the violent acts that sometimes occur as a result that we can actually change, make that real change we know we need to see.
BASH: Congresswoman, if you -- you want to sit? I just want to ask you a follow-up question on this very topic, because you voted this past week to condemn anti-Semitism and other forms of hate. And this vote, of course, came after your fellow Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar suggested that support for Israel in Congress is, quote, "all about the Benjamins" and criticized lawmakers just this past week for supporting Israel as potentially having, quote, "allegiance to a foreign country." What do you think about these statements? And do you think this is anti-Semitic?
GABBARD: Well, let's look at the bigger issue here. The bigger issue is -- there's a couple, actually -- of making sure that as members of Congress and as people in this country, we can have open dialogue about our foreign policy.
You know, as there are criticisms levied about dual loyalty, again, as I mentioned in the last question, I've been on the receiving end of those types of attacks, so I can understand how offensive they can be, where just because I am a Hindu, people assume that therefore I must be loyal to some other interest or some other place.
BASH: But what about these specific statements? You're talking broadly. These specific statements, were they anti-Semitic? GABBARD: There are people who have expressed their offense at these
statements. I think that what Congresswoman Omar was trying to get at was a deeper issue related to our foreign policy, and I think there's an important discussion that we have to be able to have openly, even though we may end up disagreeing at the end of it, but we've got to be able to have that openness to have the conversation.
BASH: But you're not willing to go as far as saying it's anti- Semitic?
GABBARD: What I'm saying is, is what she was trying to bring up was something that was a deeper issue. And I don't believe that her intent was to cause any offense to anyone.
BASH: OK. Let's get back to the audience. I want to bring in Rayellen Smith, who is an accountant and Democratic activist from New Mexico, who says she's planning to run for office.
BASH: In two years. Rayellen?
GABBARD: Thank you.
BASH: Thank you so much. My question is about Medicare-for-all, something that intrigues me quite a bit. My question specifically is, what is your position on Medicare-for-all and the impact it might have to the insurance industry, thousands of jobs being lost, and a potential large segment of our economy vanishing?
GABBARD: Yeah, sure. Thank you for stepping up to run for office when you do. That's an important thing. I support Medicare-for-all. And I want to tell you why.
It is unacceptable that in our country we pay far more for health care than any other country in the world, yet we have far worse outcomes than any other country in the world. We have to look at why that is. And we have to understand that in this country, it's unacceptable for anyone to be sick and in need of care and not able to get that care simply because they don't have enough money.
So Medicare-for-all, which we are paying right now with the high cost of health care that we are paying, Medicare-for-all would take out that insurance company that we are writing a big check to every month and instead we would be able to lower that cost of health care by taking out that bloated administrative fees and the heavy profits that insurance companies are make on the backs of sick people in this country and instead write that check for Medicare-for-all, where we would have that coverage for everyone.
There's a lot of things that we have to look at, at what are driving the high costs of health care. So on its own, Medicare-for-all is not going to solve everything. We have to address the high cost of prescription drugs. Right now, Medicare today still can't negotiate with prescription drug companies to bring down that cost of health care. That has to change.
Being able to reimport drugs from places like Canada, at a cheaper price, is something that we have to be able to do. Focusing on preventive health care and trying to make it so that less people are getting sick in the first place is a great investment that we can make in this country.
So I believe that we have to come at this from a comprehensive approach, from a holistic approach, as we look to bring down the cost of health care and make sure that everyone who needs that care, who wants that care, is able to access it.
BASH: Can I just drill down on this just to make sure I'm hearing you right? Do you believe that all private insurance should be eliminated?
GABBARD: I don't. I think Medicare-for-all, in and of itself, by providing that care, that basic level of care, which would include dental and vision to people, would take away that insurance middleman, that high cost that we are paying right now. If people want to go and get private insurance for something else or something that they're not seeing as being fulfilled then, of course, they should have the freedom to do that.
BASH: What would that insurance be for? Because, you know, the argument is that if you go that far, then the private insurance markets will bottom out, they won't really exist.
GABBARD: Well, the thing is, today insurance companies are not allowed to offer coverage for things that are already covered by Medicare today. So by expanding Medicare-for-all, this wouldn't change that. If there are other services or other needs that insurance companies see that they have an opportunity to fill and that people would want, then this is a free country. They'd be able to do that.
BASH: Let's get back to the audience. I want to go now to Joseph Jaffey, a marketing consultant from Connecticut. Joseph?
QUESTION: Hello, and thank you for taking my question. I believe the 2020 general election is going to be a single-issue vote, and that single issue is going to be socialism. Right now, the Democratic legacy is being warped and repositioned as a socialist agenda. So, Congresswoman, my question for you is as follows. How will you counter this perception? Because as they say in marketing, perception is reality. And in doing so, restore the Democratic ideals to their original truths.
GABBARD: Yeah, it's an important question. And we do this by not falling into this trap of labels that is being set and focusing first and foremost on the people.
So you can -- and people use all kinds of labels to name this or to name that. And if you pay attention, you'll notice the only reason they're using those labels is to try to pit one group of us against the other, is to try to tear one part of our country away from the other, to divide us as a nation. This goes against the very principles that our founders had for us as a United States of America.
And so it's important for this reason and for every other reason why we get into public service to focus first and foremost on serving the people of this country, by providing the services and the care, the best care that we can, meeting those needs, working together, bringing the diverse ideas that we have to find that best solution, whether those ideas are coming from Democrats, Republicans, or independents, taking away all of those barriers and say, how can we best serve? That is our mission. And that's what I'll deliver on as your president. Thank you.
BASH: Congresswoman, I understand what you're saying about labels, but that's how we define and understand where people come from ideologically and philosophically. So what about capitalism? Are you a capitalist?
GABBARD: See, here's the thing with all these labels and, as you said, how they're used to define people and where they're coming from. But as you see, so many of these labels are misused, misunderstood to the point...
BASH: How would you define yourself?
GABBARD: ... where people don't have any idea what they even mean anymore.
BASH: So you're not a capitalist?
GABBARD: I'm an independent-minded person, I'm a Democrat, and my sole focus and purpose is to figure out how we can best serve the people of this country.
BASH: Hold it right there. We have a lot more to discuss. We're going to be back from CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard after this.
BASH: Welcome back to CNN's Democratic presidential candidate town hall with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. In the first segment, you were talking about your faith, your Hindu faith, and we have a question from the audience about that. Joseph Ramirez, an audio and visual technician from right near Austin. QUESTION: Hi, Tulsi.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask, what has your Hindu faith brought into your life? And also, how do you respond to being attacked for being in support of Hindu nationalists?
GABBARD: You know, I grew to understand from a young age, being raised in a multi-faith home. My mom is a practicing Hindu. My dad is Catholic. And so for us as kids, we grew up studying and reading from both the Bhagavad Gita, as well as the New Testament.
So we heard stories about Krishna and Arjuna at night when we were going to sleep, as well as stories about Jesus of Nazareth. But what we learned from a young age from these scriptures was that real happiness in life can only be found when you're dedicating your life in the service of God and in the service of others, truly finding ways no matter what path we chose in life to make a positive impact on those around us and to be good stewards of our home, to take care of this planet.
So throughout my life, I have done my best in different ways to be able to do that, to dedicate my actions, whether it was environmental work in Hawaii as a teenager, running for State House in Hawaii when I was 21 years old, served on the city council and then, of course, now in Congress, as well as serving as a soldier in the Army National Guard.
I want to address the second part of your question, though. Accusations like the type you mentioned are just another form of Hindu-phobic attacks that, unfortunately, I and so many others, Hindus in this country, have been on the receiving end of, along with Muslims, along with people of other religions. And it is exactly these kinds of attacks that not only Hindus must stand up and speak out against, but every single one of us, no matter where the attack is coming from or who it is being targeted to. If we want to change this culture of hate and bigotry, every one of us must stand up and speak with one voice to condemn it, because an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.
QUESTION: Thank you.
BASH: Congresswoman, I wanted to ask you a little bit more about this, because you made a video celebrating the life of the founder of Hare Krishna, who you called your grandfather and spiritual master. You were raised as part of a movement that split off from Hare Krishna. For those who aren't familiar with this tradition, can you describe your faith as it relates to the Hare Krishna movement?
GABBARD: I follow a branch of Hinduism that is the Gaudiya Vaishnava branch of Hinduism, and the teachings and the practice that I live in my everyday life and that are taught by not only my teachers, but their teachers and their teachers and their teachers before them, is essentially what I talked about. It is this practice of what's called bhakti yoga and karma yoga.
Bhakti yoga is developing a loving relationship with God. It's very deeply personal relationship. And karma yoga is seeing, how can I dedicate my energy and skills and time into the service of others? And there are so many ways we can do that.
I was talking with someone last night, a young person who was saying, well, I don't know that I want to get into politics or the military, but I know that I want to be of service with my life. And this practice of karma yoga -- everyone -- I mean, people are familiar with the term "karma." It means actions. So the actions that we take, this means using those actions in a way that is of service and has a positive impact on those around us. Whether we work in business, or education, or health care, or anything, any of these principles that are universal principles, not limited to Hinduism, can be applied in every one of our lives.
BASH: Thank you. Let's get back to the audience. The next question comes from Seth Tiven, a musician and software engineer right here in Austin.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can you convince me that your prior positions on gay rights have truly changed? I'm especially concerned about your previous support of conversion therapy, which I find really, really repulsive. And I'd like to understand what caused you to re-evaluate your positions and change them.
GABBARD: Thank you for your question. I want to correct the record on something that's very important that you raised. I personally never supported any kind of conversion therapy. I never advocated for conversion therapy. And, frankly, I didn't even know what conversion therapy was until just the last few years. I think it was when I was first running for Congress when someone was asking me about it.
I was raised in a very socially conservative home. My father is Catholic. He was a leading voice against gay marriage in Hawaii during that time. Again, I was very young, but these were the values and the beliefs that I grew up around.
My own personal journey, as I went out in different experiences in my life, especially going and deploying to the Middle East, where I saw firsthand the negative impact of a government attempting to act as a moral arbiter for their people, dictating in the most personal ways how they must live their lives. And so it caused me to confront that contradiction, whereas a soldier standing for freedom for all people here in this country, but also how that contradicted with some of those values and beliefs that I grew up with.
I also served with gay and lesbian and trans servicemembers. And we became very good friends and knew in the most deep and visceral way that I would give my life for any one of them. And I knew that they would do the same for me. And serving there overseas, being in a place where race or religion or orientation, these were things that didn't matter, because we were focused on our mission of service. So these experiences caused me to go through some soul-searching
myself. And so I ask you to look to my record in Congress now for over six years, where it is a reflection of what is in my heart and it's a reflection of my commitment to fight for equality for all people. I have 100 percent legislative rating from the Human Rights Campaign that reflects on a whole variety of issues and pieces of legislation, how I have carried through on that commitment, which will continue as president and commander-in-chief.
BASH: I want to go now, our next question comes from Joy Craig, a retired U.S. marine officer who fights against sexual assault in the military.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Aloha.
GABBARD: Thank you for your service.
QUESTION: Thank you for yours. As one woman officer to another, I'd like to know what you would like to do to stop sexual assault in the military. And as commander-in-chief, will you commit to signing the Military Justice Improvement Act, should it come across your desk?
Thank you. I led the introduction of the Military Justice Improvement Act in the House of Representatives, so absolutely I would sign it into law as your president and commander-in-chief.
As a fellow servicemember, we have lived through experiences ourselves and things that our fellow brothers and sisters in uniform have gone through. I have sat through hearings and engaged with leaders from the Department of Defense in my role as a member of the Armed Services Committee, where, unfortunately, there is a lack of recognition of the serious change that needs to take place for there to be a true path for justice, for victims of sexual assault in the military.
I believe that we still today don't know how rampant sexual assault in the military is, because there is still a fear of retaliation. There is a stigma. And people who don't want to be known as "that one." She or he is "that one" who went against the team, who turned their back. You know exactly what I'm talking about. And we know people ourselves who have gone through this and felt like they had no place to turn.
So this legislation is so important, because it provides that path outside of the chain of command where you know that there is no one, whether it's your team leader, or platoon leader, or your first sergeant or your commander, there is no one who will be able to stop your pursuit of justice and accountability if you're a victim of assault in the military.
This is such an important issue. Thank you for raising it. It's one that I'm going to continue to fight for. Thank you. (APPLAUSE)
QUESTION: Appreciate it.
BASH: Let me ask you another question about this, because I'm sure you saw Republican Senator Martha McSally this week reveal during a hearing that she was raped while she was serving in the military. You talked about your experience in hearings, but you've actually served in combat zones. From your experience, how prevalent is this?
GABBARD: You know, the data and the studies can't be accurate. And this is -- this is the problem, because for women -- and it's even more so amongst men who have come forward, who feel like it's impossible. They can't tell their story.
BASH: And did you have people who you served with who felt that way?
BASH: Who confided in you?
GABBARD: Absolutely. People who we, as their friends, strongly urged them, you have to report this, you have to take action, if not for yourself, then for someone else, because this person will continue to perpetrate this violence and this assault on other people. But I'll tell you, one of my closest friends still refused to do it.
BASH: Still to this day?
GABBARD: Still to this day. She has never reported what happened to her. And it's -- unless you've gone through it yourself, it's hard to understand fully all of the fears and the concerns that some of my friends have shared with me that have stopped them from coming forward.
The kinds of attacks, the kinds of assumptions that are made against people who do, and the kind of stigma that ends up hanging over their shoulders, where, hey, maybe they were soldier of the year and they were great at their job and they accomplished their mission, but now all of a sudden all of that falls away because they come forward and this is what they're known for.
So, yes, we have to pass legislation. We have to change our laws to make sure that this accountability is there and that this independent, transparent path towards justice exists, but it's a bigger challenge that we've got to face as a country that not only impacts the military, but it impacts our college campuses, it impacts us in the workplace, and every part of our society where it is still not a safe place to be able to come forward if you're a victim of these kinds of attacks and know that change will happen.
BASH: Thank you for that. I want to go again to the audience. Our next question comes from Paul Henke, a software developer from Los Angeles.
GABBARD: Aloha. QUESTION: Hi. We as a people have really benefited greatly from the
capacity of science to make predictions about an unknown future. Climate science predicts that this century we will suffer catastrophic consequences of accelerating global warming, yet the government's response has been to turn a blind eye. Why does this issue not have more political traction? And with what urgency will you address it if you are elected president?
GABBARD: Yeah, thank you.
You know, before I ran for Congress, I served on our Honolulu City Council, a district that is one of the largest city councils in the country, represented close to 100,000 people. And one of the things that we went through in our deliberations and bringing in experts and meeting with planners, city planners, was the impact of climate change on our home, as an island state.
This wasn't some far-off theory or some possibility in the next generation that people might have to face. This was in the next 10, 15, 20 years, how much are the sea levels going to rise that are going to start taking over our communities?
And we're seeing this now. There was just a resolution passed in Hawaii calling for an emergency because homes and roads are being eroded because of these rising sea levels in the ocean. So we know how urgent this is, as do many people in this country.
I think there are a number of reasons we can look to, to why Washington hasn't taken this more seriously. And I think one of the big ones is the big influence of money in politics, as well as...
... industries like the fossil fuel industry continue -- you have high-powered lobbyists who try to block and get in the way of real legislation being passed. But this is something that will require us, as people, to stand up and make sure that our voices are heard to the leaders of this country to understand the seriousness of this threat and how bold action must be taken to protect us, to protect our home and our planet and our future.
Yes, there are things that we can do in our everyday lives to try to make this change. But this really needs to happen at the national level, and it needs to happen at the global level. Even if we made the kind of change we need to see, the radical change we want to see here in this country, to completely get off of fossil fuels and invest in green economy and sustainable infrastructure and make the kinds of changes we want to see, that still will not have enough of an impact unless we are seeing these kind of changes also being made in other countries in the world.
This is why it's so important that we have relationships with these other countries that are based on cooperation, so that we can talk about how we can protect our environment, how we can protect our future. If we can't have those conversations, then there's no possibility for progress there.
BASH: Congresswoman, thank you for that. We have a lot more to come. But we're going to take a quick break. And we'll be right back with more from CNN's Democratic presidential candidate town hall with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.
BASH: Welcome back to CNN's Democratic presidential candidate town hall with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard at the ACL Live at the Moody Theater. I want to get straight to the audience once again and bring in Taylor Horan, a student at the University of Central Florida. Taylor?
QUESTION: Hi! What do you believe has been the biggest policy mistake of the United States since creation?
GABBARD: Wow, since creation?
BASH: Of the United States.
GABBARD: Right, yes.
I don't know that I could go back that far.
BASH: It's a little bit.
GABBARD: Well, look, I'm going to point to the one that strikes a chord with me most deeply, personally, and it has to do with the cost of war. We are in a situation today where we, here in the United States and the world, are at a greater risk of nuclear catastrophe than ever before in history. Greater risk today than ever before of nuclear catastrophe.
About a year ago in Hawaii, this became all too clear to us. It was January of 2018, right? That's what year we're in. It was January of last year early in the morning when there was a cell phone message alert that went out to over a million phones across our state and that alert read "Missile incoming. Seek shelter. This is not a drill."
So it might be hard for some of you to imagine what went through our minds, but it was terrifying, knowing that we had just minutes to live. Minutes to live. And so we had parents who were piling their kids into cars and trying to drive towards the mountains to see if there was a cave that might provide some shelter and safety. There was a father who lowered his little girl down a man hole, thinking that maybe, maybe she might be protected there. People trying to decide, who do I spend -- what member of my family, which one of my children do I spend the last minutes of my life with?
So this alert turned out to be false, but the reason why we reacted the way that we did is because the threat is real. It's as real for us as we sit here today in Austin as it is for everyone who's watching from home. Our leaders have failed us and brought us to this point. It doesn't have to be this way. We have to correct our course. We have to end this new Cold War and nuclear arms race that is currently being waged that threatens our very future and that costs us trillions of our taxpayer dollars, dollars that need to be spent and invested to serve the needs of our people here at home.
This is what I'm committed to doing. This is why I'm running for president, to change these policies, to end these regime change wars, end this new Cold War and nuclear arms race, and take our resources and put them where they need to be, in our people and in our future.
BASH: And I want to go straight to the audience for another question. John Cook, management consultant from right here in Austin.
GABBARD: Thanks for having us in your town.
QUESTION: Welcome to Austin, y'all.
GABBARD: Thank you.
QUESTION: OK, moving away from policy for a second, an important consideration for me is, can you beat Donald Trump? So my question to you is, so what would be your strategy in a debate with someone who seems to make up any answer that's convenient or expedient and will not acknowledge reality?
GABBARD: Good question. As a soldier, I've been through some tough situations before, so I'm not really worried about Donald Trump. I'm focused on serving the people of this country, on bringing those values of service above self that every servicemember has in our hearts to the White House and restoring to the presidency honor and integrity and courage. Thank you.
BASH: Now let's go to Liana Gillooly from California, who is a drug legalization activist.
QUESTION: Thanks for receiving my question.
GABBARD: Thank you.
QUESTION: The opioid epidemic is wreaking havoc across every American -- all Americans from every walk of life. Addition or substance use disorder is a public health concern, not a criminal justice concern. I'm wondering if you will end the war on drugs by decriminalizing all drugs and working to remove the stigma, the shame and the fear that so often prevent people from accessing the help that they need?
GABBARD: Yeah, thank you. Thanks for your question and thanks for your work in this area.
You know, in just the last few weeks, and having the chance to travel to different parts of the country, we were in New Hampshire, a state that is directly on the front lines and experiencing harshly the results of this opioid epidemic.
And we had a chance to visit a recovery home and meet with some of the gentlemen who were living there, men of different ages, sharing their stories. One was a college student, one was an engineer, one was an attorney. But each of them sharing how their lives had completely been torn apart and ruined because of this addiction, not only the addiction itself, but the lawyer was disbarred. College student was kicked out of school. Some had -- I think almost every one of them had spent time in prison.
And so I was so impressed with them because of their strength and their resilience, but what they were doing was to try to help other people to educate them to lift the stigma and make the point exactly that you're making, that this is about recovery, this is about an addiction, and we need to address that reality and help resolve some of the root causes of why people are turning to different substances in the first place.
We must end this failed war on drugs. I introduced legislation...
I introduced legislation just a few days ago in Washington, bipartisan legislation, in fact, the only bipartisan piece of legislation in Congress that would end the federal prohibition on marijuana.
This will have a great impact in so many ways on the opioid crisis, where in states where medical marijuana or marijuana as a whole is legalized, we have seen a correlation and a drop in opioid addiction, as well as a drop in opioid-related deaths. This will have an impact on our economy in so many different ways, as well as taking a huge bite out of our broken criminal justice system, where far too many nonviolent drug offenders are wasting away.
BASH: Congresswoman, you're talking a lot about marijuana. But where do you draw the line on decriminalization? Because one of the questions was about all drugs. What do you think about that?
GABBARD: I think the heart of her question was really recognizing that this is about addiction, not criminalization. And so our failed war on drugs has turned everyday Americans who are struggling with substance abuse and addiction and turned them into criminals.
At our press conference, we had a guy named Harry who was there from Virginia who was a college student studying computer science. And, you know, he was not a public speaker. He doesn't do this very often, but he shared his story about how he was in college and he was sent to prison for marijuana possession and had to serve 10 years because of two 5-year mandatory minimum sentences. He served in -- his cellmate was a guy who committed -- was convicted of murder and he go out of prison before he did. So we have to work towards those steps of completely ending the failed war on drugs.
QUESTION: Thank you.
GABBARD: Thank you.
BASH: We want to go now to Cat McCoy, president of the University Democrats at the University of Texas here in Austin.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for being here, Congresswoman.
GABBARD: Thank you.
QUESTION: As one of the many handful of women that are participating in the Democratic primary this year, which female role model has influenced you the most and why?
GABBARD: Great question. There are many. I'm going to share a story about someone who comes from my home state, Congresswoman Patsy Mink. She was a congresswoman who actually held the seat in Congress that I hold today. She made history throughout her life, but she was told no at almost every turn.
She wanted to go and be a doctor. But at that time, as an Asian- American woman, she was told, nope, sorry, not allowed. She got pretty pissed off about that and wanted to do something about it, so she went and became an attorney instead so that she could actually fight not just for her own opportunity, but opportunities for other women, as well.
I could speak on and on about her many accomplishments, but one that has impacted all of us, especially women of our generation, was she was a leader in Congress passing Title IX, making it so that women could compete in college sports...
... making it so that women could compete in the Olympics and opening up many doors that previously were very closed. So it's women like Patsy Mink and many others who stood strong in the face of discrimination, who've stood strong in the face of hate, and kept their eyes on the prize in making that change, not just for themselves, but for everyone else. Thank you.
BASH: Congresswoman, we're almost out of time. You would be the first female president if you succeed in this. What would that mean to you? GABBARD: I think the more important question is what it would mean to
the country, what it would mean to the kind of change that we together can bring about. There are a lot of different experiences that I bring to the table.
The most important job that a president has is to serve as commander- in-chief. So as a soldier, as someone who served for over 15 years in the Army National Guard, deployed twice to the Middle East, served on the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees in Congress, I bring a unique skill set and qualification to serve as commander-in-chief in this country.
BASH: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, thank you so much for joining me.
GABBARD: Thank you very much, everybody.
BASH: Thank you all. Don't go anywhere, because up next, Jake Tapper is going to be right here moderating a CNN Democratic presidential candidate town hall with Mayor Pete Buttigieg right here. Don't go away.