Kirsten Gillibrand Announces Presidential Campaign On Late Show With Stephen Colbert

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Ending days of widespread speculation, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D- NY) officially announced plans to pursue a presidential bid on Tuesday while a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. As the Senator most closely associated with the #MeToo movement and with a history of supporting women who run for office, Gillibrand made the case for why now was her time to run.

“As a young mom, I am going to fight for other people’s kids as hard as I fight for my own,” Gillibrand, 52, said, promising a push for guaranteed healthcare, better schools, and the job training needed to earn the way into the middle class—while taking on institutional racism and government corruption.

“I know that I have compassion, the courage and the fearless determination to get that done,” she added.

Officially, Gillibrand is filing to set up an exploratory committee which is the first step towards launching a full-scale presidential campaign. Tuesday's unambiguous announcement stands in stark contrast to her comments during her latest Senate re-election bid, when she pledged to serve a full six-year term if elected.

Colbert—who joked that after factoring in the holidays when The Late Show was off air, Gillibrand had just been his guest “like last week"—noted things had changed, citing the 25-day government shutdown. He said they joke a lot that the world is on fire, “And America right now is interviewing for new Fire Chiefs, because the present Fire Chief likes to play with matches.”

Asked about the first thing she would do on day one in office, Gillibrand said, “restoring what’s been lost. The integrity and the compassion in this country."

She also pledged to bring people together to get things done, citing her work on the 9/11 health bill, which provides care and financial support for first responders and rescue workers who were sickened in the aftermath of the terror attacks.

Gillibrand said she has a bipartisan bill with nearly every member of the Senate. “I mean, Ted Cruz and I agree on how to end sexual harassment in Congress and wrote a bill together which ultimately was passed unanimously,” Gillibrand said. “Me and Ted Cruz.”

While she’s not the first woman to enter the race, the Gillibrand camp is making a direct appeal to women voters who helped fuel major Democratic wins in the midterm elections, putting her role as a mother front and center in the campaign. She has two sons.

Her campaign also points to her fundraising prowess. She’s raised more than $56 million over her career, including $8.2 million in online grassroots donations in the 2018 cycle, with an average online donation of $20 and over 140,000 first-time donors. Nearly a year ago, she announced plans to stop accepting money from corporate political action committees. She enters the 2020 fray with more than $10 million on hand.

That’s after her fundraising took a hit last year. Politico reported that some major Democratic donors were upset with her for being the first to call for Minnesota Senator Al Franken’s resignation after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment. Gillibrand has refused to apologize for her position, arguing that the Democratic party needed to hold its own accountable if they were to challenge Trump on his behavior towards women.

Years before the #MeToo movement, Gillibrand took on the issue of sexual assault in the military and on college campuses.

Gillibrand, 52, first entered the Senate in 2009 when she was appointed by then-Governor David Paterson to fill the seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, after she was tapped to be President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State.

At that time, she was a little-known congresswoman from a rural district in upstate New York. She was viewed as pro-gun and anti-immigration. Several higher profile Democrats were seen as more-likely successors to Clinton, including Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late president John F. Kennedy, and Andrew Cuomo, then the attorney general and now the governor of New York.

Speaking to WNYC for a profile of Gillibrand last year, Paterson said an unlikely sequence of events, including an unflattering skit mocking him on Saturday Night Live, led him to consider selecting Gillibrand. He also said he wanted a woman for the seat.

“At that period of time there were a lot of women who felt that in the Democratic primary of 2008 that the old boys network defeated racism,” Paterson told WNYC. “That in other words the bias against Senator Barack Obama was not as great as the bias against Hillary Clinton and many women around New York—activist women—felt that way. And I could kind of understand why they did,” he said.

Since 2010, Gillibrand has been re-elected statewide three times, beating her latest Republican challenger by more than 30 points. Out of New York State’s 62 counties, she won 18 of the 46 that voted for Trump in 2016, a feat her campaign points to as a sign of her potential crossover appeal.

And her positions on those bread and butter Democratic issues have changed. On guns, she now receives an F-rating from the NRA. On immigration, she’s fought for protections for DREAMers. Still, those perceived flip-flops are likely to be lines of attack for her opponents.

Gillibrand is the latest to join what is an already a crowded field of Democratic candidates seeking to oust Republican President Donald Trump from the White House.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard and former Obama administration housing secretary Julian Castro all declared their candidacy in recent days. Senators Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey are likely to enter the fray soon, with former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders also considered top-tier candidates should they decide to run.

Another possible candidate with lots of buzz is former Texas Representative Beto O’Rouke, who ran a unexpectedly competitive—but ultimately unsuccessful—Senate race against Republican Ted Cruz. O’Rouke amassed a large national following, raising record-setting amounts from donors and maintaining an oddly engaging digital presence (like making his latest dental appointment a viral fascination).

Gillibrand is expected to appear in Troy, New York on Thursday at a diner near where she lives with her husband Jonathan and their sons, ages 15 and 10. On Friday, she will travel to Sioux City, Iowa for her first public event in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

Addressing her reputation for using salty language, Colbert asked her if she would give up swearing on the campaign trail, and Gillibrand said she would try. Asked what word she would miss most, she said with a smile, “Rhymes with duck.”

Brigid Bergin is the City Hall and politics reporter for WNYC. You can follow her on Twitter at @brigidbergin.

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