President Donald Trump kicked off his stay in Florida on Saturday by giving a speech to hundreds of students attending a Turning Point USA conservative youth conference in West Palm Beach. But unlike what many were expecting, Trump didn’t spend much time talking about his impeachment. He did, though, devote a few minutes to doing something that isn’t normal in his speeches: praising a Democrat. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii was on the receiving end of the praise as the commander in chief scoffed at the suggestion that she works for Russia while he also said he respects her for not voting to impeach him.
It all began with a favorite talking point of Trump’s, as he took time to mock his opponent in the 2016 presidential election. “Did you the see the other day? Crooked Hillary came out, she said that Jill Stein from the Green Party, she said Jill Stein was a Russian agent,” Trump said. “Now, I don’t know Jill Stein, I’m sure she’s a fine woman. But I know she’s not a Russian agent.” Trump then turned to Gabbard. “Then she said Tulsi Gabbard is a weapon of Russia. And they lost all credibility because you know that Tulsi Gabbard—and I give her respect. She didn’t vote the other day. I give her a lot of respect, because she knew it was wrong. But I don’t know, but I know one thing. She is not an agent of Russia,” Trump added.
Gabbard came under fire from Democrats after she became the only Democrat or Republican to vote “present” to impeach Trump in the House of Representatives on both articles of impeachment. “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. 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,” Gabbard said. Rather than impeach the president, Gabbard wants to censure Trump, which amounts to an expression of strong disapproval of his conduct.
By mentioning the alleged Russia connection, Trump was picking up on a Gabbard talking point that is essentially based on misreporting over what Hillary Clinton actually said. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Gabbard said Clinton accused her of “being ‘groomed’ by the Russian government to undermine America.” The truth, though, is that in an interview, Clinton said Republicans were the ones grooming Gabbard to run as a third-party candidate.
Gabbard currently sits near the bottom of the Democratic pack with only 1.7 percent support, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average.