Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Warren, Pressley introduce bill to make it a crime for police officers to deny medical care to people in custody Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers MORE (D-N.Y.) and other Senate Democrats are jockeying for potential White House runs, but her unabashed style is drawing friendly fire that could hamper a 2020 bid.
She scored an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that aired on Sunday, which billed her as one of the “most prominent political faces of the #MeToo movement.”
The high-profile media appearance, coupled with her public rebukes of former President Clinton and ex-Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenPolitical world mourns loss of comedian Jerry Stiller Maher to Tara Reade on timing of sexual assault allegation: ‘Why wait until Biden is our only hope?’ Democrats begin to confront Biden allegations MORE (D-Minn.), has stirred some ill will among Senate Democrats — who sense a whiff of political opportunism.
Her willingness to call out fellow Democrats has made her controversial within the Washington power establishment, which could be an asset on the campaign trail.
Sunday’s “60 Minutes” piece described Gillibrand as a “lightning rod” for criticizing Clinton over his White House sex scandal and for leading the charge to push Franken out of Congress following multiple sexual harassment allegations.
Some Democratic strategists predict Gillibrand’s statement last fall that Clinton should have resigned over the Monica Lewinsky affair will come back to haunt her.
The comment caused so much agitation in Democratic circles that Allida Black, the co-founder of the Clinton super PAC Ready for Hillary who was married by Gillibrand, canceled a fundraiser for the senator.
“She was disappointed with Gillibrand and going back and talking about all this stuff with Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonWill the ‘law and order’ president pardon Roger Stone? Five ways America would take a hard left under Joe Biden The sad spectacle of Trump’s enablers MORE after all this had been litigated,” one person familiar with the situation told The Hill. “But she also noticed people were upset and the money was drying up.”
Even though the comments clearly miffed those in her party, Gillibrand hasn’t reached out to Clinton, according to a source familiar with the matter.
When asked by “60 Minutes” whether she had contacted the Clintons, Gillibrand declined to comment.
“I can tell you one thing: I can tell you that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE is still my greatest role model in politics,” she demurred.
Gillibrand’s allies argue that she has a long history of speaking out against sexual assault.
They point out she took on a senior chairman from her own party, former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinAmerica’s divide widens: Ignore it no longer Senator Tom Coburn’s government oversight legacy The Trumpification of the federal courts MORE (D-Mich.), and former President Obama over the thorny issue of prosecuting sexual assaults in the military.
Gillibrand wanted to remove prosecution decisions from the military chain of command, while Levin argued those decisions should be kept in the chain of command but reviewed by outside officers. The New York senator went so far as to draw Obama into the debate, calling on him to “show greater leadership” on the issue, arguing it fell directly within his authority.
Glen Caplin, a spokesman for Gillibrand, said his boss will continue to speak out on sexual harassment despite the criticism.
“As Kirsten wrote in a Facebook post, we must not lose sight that this watershed moment is bigger than any one industry, any one party, or any one person. We have to rise to the occasion, and not shrink away from it, even when it’s hard, especially when it’s hard. That is what this larger moment is about,” said Caplin.
Still, Gillibrand is taking heat from Democratic donors.
Susie Tompkins Buell, a major donor, told The New York Times last month that Gillibrand had “miscalculated” and “shot herself in the foot” in ripping Franken.
Buell said she would have to think before providing future financial support for Gillibrand.
“I have supported her for many years. Will I going forward? To be determined,” she said.
One top Democratic donor said that while some Democrats may have been supportive of Gillibrand’s recent involvement in the “Me Too” movement, some donors — particularly those who supported Hillary Clinton — were put off.
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“She stepped in it. And not once but a couple of times. And I think a lot of us saw it as opportunistic,” the donor said.
The blowback doesn’t appear to have impacted Gillibrand’s fundraising, however.
If anything, her higher profile because of the “Me Too” movement has translated into more campaign contributions from the grass roots.
Gillibrand circulated a fundraising email after getting into a Twitter fight with President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE and raised close to $12 million for her Senate campaign account in 2017.
This put her in the same realm as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D), another likely White House hopeful, who raised $14.4 million during the same period, according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
Gillibrand raked in substantially more last year than freshman Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE (D-Calif.), another woman in the Senate viewed as a possible presidential candidate in 2020. Harris raised about $2.6 million for her campaign fund in 2017, according to FEC records.
Gillibrand’s Senate Democratic colleagues expect she will run for president, though some of them wonder whether she can win enough support from the political center or distinguish herself enough from a crowded field of liberals to win.
“That part of the caucus is all competing for Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE voters and he lost,” noted a Democratic senator who spoke on the condition of anonymity, referring to Gillibrand and her potential competitors for the 2020 Democratic nomination: Warren and Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (D-N.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who came up short in his bid for the party’s nomination in 2016.
If Gillibrand runs for the Democratic nomination, she will have to answer questions on two issues important to the Democratic base: gun control and immigration.
When Gillibrand represented a rural Republican-leaning district in the House, she had an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association and was a critic of “sanctuary cities” and “amnesty,” the latter a term conservatives apply to plans granting citizenship and legal residence to immigrants living the country illegally.
She now says she was “wrong” on guns and has learned more about immigrant communities since expanding her representation to all of New York.
Gillibrand, 51, said she changed her views on guns after visiting families in New York City who lost relatives to street violence. She said gun issues are now about “money” and the “greed of [the gun] industry” and not about hunters’ rights.
“I came from a district that was 98 percent white. We have immigrants but not a lot of immigrants and I hadn’t really spent the time to hear those stories, to hear what it’s like to worry that your dad could be taken away at any moment,” she told “60 Minutes.”
Gillibrand says she’s focused on her own reelection in 2018 and helping Democrats win back the Senate and House, a standard response from Democrats who are viewed as top White House prospects.
The recent media exposure won’t hurt Gillibrand’s name ID and could boost her poll numbers, which are lagging significantly behind those of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE, Sanders and Warren.
This story was updated at 8:54 a.m. to reflect that Sen. Warren raised $14.4 million in 2017.