Washington Week

Friday Nights on PBS

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: 7 things you need to know

Embed from Getty Images

By Roey Hadar

Gwen Ifill Fellow

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) officially announced her presidential bid on March 17th just over two months after launching an exploratory committee.

The 52-year-old New York Democrat officially joins a field of over a dozen contenders, where she will hope to stand out by pointing to her liberal Senate voting record and advocacy on women’s issues and for the #MeToo movement.

Here are seven things you need to know about Gillibrand:

  • Before her appointment to the Senate, Gillibrand served one term in the House, representing a moderate district. Gillibrand won her seat in 2006 by knocking off an incumbent in rural upstate New York, and embraced policies that put her politically to the right of many Democrats. She was a member of the “Blue Dog Coalition” who opposed any sort of amnesty for undocumented immigrants, supported cutting aid to “sanctuary cities” who shielded undocumented immigrants from deportation and held an 100 percent “A” rating from the National Rifle Association.
  • Gillibrand’s appointment to the US Senate caught many people by surprise. In 2009, New York Gov. David Paterson appointed Gillibrand to fill Hillary Clinton’s US Senate seat, picking her over higher-profile Democrats including former first daughter Caroline Kennedy and then-New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. In a state where New York City has outsized influence, Gillibrand became the first senator from upstate New York in over three decades.
  • She has become one of the most liberal members of the Senate. In the years following her appointment, Gillibrand spoke out in support of LGBT+ rights, gun control and immigration. The organization GovTrack, which analyzes the political leanings of senators, rated her as the most liberal Senator in the last Congress. Gillibrand was also one of the first senators to call for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
  • Women’s rights issues are a top priority for Gillibrand. In 2013, Gillibrand introduced legislation to take military sexual assault cases out of the chain of command, in response to a series of scandals about the military’s alleged mishandling of sexual assault cases. She has recounted stories of having congressional colleagues make disparaging comments about her weight and appearance. She also has been outspoken against sexual misconduct in light of the #MeToo movement, becoming the first Senate Democrat to call for Sen. Al Franken’s resignation in 2017 for alleged sexual misconduct and saying that President Bill Clinton should have resigned over his affair with Monica Lewinsky. A former aide said she resigned last year from Gillibrand’s Senate office, however, for alleged mishandling of a complaint she filed against a male colleague in the office. Gillibrand’s office investigated the claim and kept the accused aide as an employee, but fired him after reporters began investigating the issue.
  • She is campaigning on progressive policies including Medicare for all and a Green New Deal. Gillibrand has called for Medicare for all, a proposal she supported in some form as far back as 2006. Her version of a Green New Deal proposal calls for net-zero carbon emissions and investing in public transit and sustainable infrastructure.
  • Other notable policy proposals of hers include paid family leave, ending cash bail, and publicly funding elections. Gillibrand has introduced a bill calling for paying workers for time off if they are sick, are taking care of someone who is sick, or are caring for a newborn. She has called for ending cash bail in an effort to help fix the class divide in criminal justice policy. In an effort to get money out of politics, she has proposed a national version of New York City’s campaign finance system, where small donations are allowed and the government matches donations, as part of a proposal to overturn Citizens United.
  • As a young lawyer, one of her clients was tobacco company Philip Morris. Gillibrand worked at the New York law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell in the 1990s and was involved in helping the tobacco giant block the Justice Department from accessing research Philip Morris had conducted that showed a link between smoking and cancer.