Members of the House of Representatives elected a president—John Quincy Adams in the deadlocked 1824 contest—but only one sitting member of the lower chamber was ever elected to the Oval Office.
Tragically, that one sitting member was James A. Garfield (R-Ohio), who was inaugurated in 1881 and then shot dead by an assassin within months.
Such dismal facts point to the incredibly long odds facing one of the two Democrats who over the weekend joined the race for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Julian Castro of Texas are the second and third Democrats to announce presidential bids, being preceded by former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, who announced his candidacy in July 2017. On Dec. 31, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts announced she was forming an exploratory committee for a presidential run.
Castro, who made his candidacy official Jan. 12, is somewhat more visible than Gabbard, having served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under President Barack Obama from 2014-2017. His twin brother, Joaquin, represents a Texas district in Congress.
Prior to President Donald Trump’s election in 2016, Castro was viewed in many quarters as a rising star in Democratic ranks, a status that was enhanced by being the youngest-ever HUD secretary and the youngest member of Obama’s cabinet.
Castro may also be the lone Hispanic in what will be an extremely crowded field of Democrats yearning for their party’s 2020 nomination.
His HUD experience is both Castro’s chief claim to experience and his greatest weakness. His three years at HUD did little to fix one of the federal government’s worst managed departments.
A 2018 Inspector General report noted HUD has been on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) list of departments at “high risk” of waste, fraud, and inefficiency since 1994.
Castro’s other claim to fame is his tenure as mayor of San Antonio from 2009 until taking the HUD job in Washington. While the position commands high visibility, it’s actually a part-time job.
“San Antonio is a large and important city but the city manager does most of the day-to-day management of the city,” Texas Republican political consultant Matt Mackowiak told The Epoch Times.
Castro’s major accomplishment, an aspirational “visioning” program for the city’s future, known as “SA2020,” was mostly a collection of goals and ideas. Still, as liberal media site Vox wrote in 2016, “It’s fine to have a part-time job, but it doesn’t really prepare you for the presidency.”
Gabbard is the first woman to announce, but several likely major first-tier 2020 candidates are also women, including Warren and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Kamala Harris of California.
The Hawaii Democrat had something of a reputation as an independent voice among House Democrats before she began serious preparations for the White House campaign she announced Jan. 11.
She served in a combat zone in Iraq as a member of a Hawaii National Guard medical unit in 2004. She is the first Samoan-American to be elected to Congress. She follows the Hindu religion.
Gabbard’s biggest obstacle to winning the White House appears to be a 2017 meeting she had with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and her vocal opposition to U.S. efforts to remove him. She was subsequently branded as “Assad’s mouthpiece in Washington” by Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin.
Assad has launched chemical-weapons attacks on opponents in his country’s civil war, and he has allowed Russia to establish military bases in Syria for air and ground military forces working with the Syrian regime.
Gabbard’s independence is evident in her support for religious freedom. In an op-ed in The Hill, she accused fellow Democrats of “religion baiting” for their opposition to a Catholic nominee by Trump for a federal judgeship, and also called out Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) by name for telling another Trump Catholic judicial nominee that “the dogma lives loud within you.”
While acknowledging that Gabbard “has been almost an independent Democrat in some ways,” Mackowiak pointed out that she “has changed her views on some social issues.”
He was referring to Gabbard’s support as a state legislator for a constitutional amendment to “protect traditional marriage,” but then in 2012, she reversed course and came out in favor of gay marriage. She said in her Jan. 11 announcement that she “regrets the positions I took in the past” on gay rights issues.
Gabbard has been a consistent abortion supporter, gaining 100 percent ratings from both Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL).
A former vice-chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Gabbard resigned in 2016 when she endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for president. She has been a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus throughout her House tenure.