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DNC Vice Chair, Combat Vet Slams Party For Limiting Debate

- October 12, 2015

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CNN's WOLF BLITZER: "We're following a very surprising controversy that has sprung up just ahead of tomorrow night's Democratic presidential debate here at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas. Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee says she was disinvited from this debate after calling for more debates among the democratic candidates. Congresswoman Gabbard is joining us now live from Honolulu. Congresswoman, thanks very much for joining us. So what happened, you were supposed to be here and all of a sudden, you're still in Hawaii." REP. TULSI GABBARD: "Thanks, Wolf. Aloha, good to talk with you and your viewers today. As you know, I've been pretty vocal about calling out for more debates. I've been calling for more debates to give the American people the opportunity to hear from presidential candidates and hold them accountable for views and positions because that differentiated from the decision that the chairwoman made from the DNC. I was told that I was no longer welcome to come to the debate." BLITZER: "So Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the chair of the DNC, what you're saying is she ordered one of her aides to call up your staffer and say you know what, don't come? Is that what happened?" GABBARD: "There was a conversation between her chief and my chief. Debbie's chief had called mine and basically spoke about an interview that I had had talking about the need and the call that the American people are having for more debates, for democracy, for increasing the engagement that we need in our society as we look to see who will lead our country into the future. And the prevailing message of that was because I continued to call for more debates that I should not go to the debate there in Las Vegas. But really, Wolf, that's really the issue here. The issue here is not about me saying boohoo, I'm going to miss the party, the issue here is one of democracy, of freedom of speech and defending that which so many have sacrificed and given their lives for." BLITZER: "Have you called Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, she's a congresswoman, she's the chair of the DNC?" GABBARD: "You know, I reached out to her after I got that message and didn't really get much of a response from her directly. She said she'd talk about it in person but the message that her chief delivered to mine stood. The thing that I'd really like to focus on, though, is not one of personalities. It really is one of the issue at stake here, which is about democracy, it's about how our Democratic Party should actually represent democratic values. Wolf, I just came from this Punch Bowl National Cemetery of the Pacific where I had the privilege and honor of being promoted from captain to the rank of major by the Hawaii Army National Guard. And being there in that place, being reminded of the sacrifice that so many have made, some people who I have known and so many who came before us fighting for freedom, fighting for democracy. This is why I feel so strongly about this, that each of us, no matter if you served in the military or not should be standing up and speaking for what is right and for the strength of our democracy." BLITZER: "The DNC put out a statement. Spokeswoman Holly Shulman saying, among other things, saying 'all that was asked of Ms. Gabbard's staff was to prioritize our candidates and this important opportunity they have to introduce themselves to the American people.' It went on, basically suggesting that you should just keep on the positive and not talk about what you may disagree with the party chair on and you were also quoted as saying 'when I signed up to be vice chair of the DNC, no one told me I would be relinquishing my freedom of speech and checking it at the door.' Those are strong words on your part." GABBARD: "Those comments were not the comments that I got from my chief of staff from that conversation. But I can think of nothing more positive to talk about than the strength of our democracy. The strength of the freedoms that we cherish and we celebrate here in our country and calling for more opportunities for the American people to be able to hear from those who are offering to lead our country into the future. We've got some very important, huge challenges that are facing our country today that are taking us into the future, domestic issues, national security issues, issues relating to foreign policy and the American people deserve more opportunities to hear from those who are asking them to hire them to be president, to be commander in chief." BLITZER: "Could you see yourself being chair of the DNC?" GABBARD: "That's not a job that I'm interested in and that's not what this is about. This is about making sure that our party and making sure that our country represents the democratic ideals that I feel so strongly about and that so many have served to fight and defend." BLITZER: "Bernie Sanders' campaign manager said on CNN earlier today, they have a ticket, they have a seat for you if you still want to fly over here to Las Vegas for tomorrow night's debate. Would you like to take them up on it?" GABBARD: "Yeah, you know, I'm grateful to Senator Sanders for offering to give me a ticket to the debate. I politely declined to accept it because I think if I were to do that then this would turn into a political conversation, rather than a conversation about our principles, our democratic principles, our ideals as a country and really what I think is most important for us to be focused on." BLITZER: "Why is the party leadership, the DNC so fearful of having more debates? They have only scheduled six so far. Why are they so scared of that?" GABBARD: "I can't speak for anybody else, Wolf. But I think the more we have these debates, the more opportunity that we have to increase the conversation to really forward the goals of the Democratic Party to increase democratic engagement, to allow for this discourse between our presidential candidates and the American people so that we've got a very clear path and a clear idea of exactly who is offering to serve as president, what they represent, the kind of judgment that they will have on these important issues that we have going forward and frankly, whether or not the American people will trust that person to be able to lead us into the future." (CNN's "The Situation Room," 10/12/15)


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