Why you should care
Because she’s a leading woman in the hallways of power.
America did not get its first female president in 2016, but that doesn’t mean women have stopped flexing their political muscle. High on that list of power politicos is U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who, talking with Katie Couric on Saturday, leaned into the discussion of the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump. If he fires special counsel Robert Mueller, that would “reach a whole other level of ridiculousness that I think stops everything,” the New York Democrat said, speaking before a home state crowd at OZY Fest in Central Park.
Then again, the UCLA-trained lawyer already thinks there’s a case for obstruction of justice after Trump canned James Comey, in part for his handling of the Russian investigation. For that, “I’d fire him,” Gillibrand said of Trump, although she admitted it would be up to Mueller to prove obstruction of justice. That was just one of the points made in Couric’s wide-ranging interview with Gillibrand, who, coming from a town hall in the Bronx, said the concerns of her constituents were fresh in her mind. “Not surprisingly, they are really worried about this health care bill,” she said, adding that so-called Trumpcare has been delayed only because of grassroots pressure. “The message is: Don’t stop!”
[Hillary Clinton] put the fire in the belly in so many women to come after her, to run, to win.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
“We built Obamacare on the for-profit system. If you really want to get prices down, you need a single payer,” Gillibrand said when Couric asked how to improve the Affordable Care Act without scrapping it. “No,” she responded unequivocally when asked if Republicans in Congress would back off recent, unpopular proposals on such issues as health care and immigration without external pressure, adding that only constituents and advocates could “give them courage.” And when Couric noted that Emily’s List has counted at least 11,000 women who have expressed interest in running for elected office since Trump became president, Gillibrand said that women shouldn’t be afraid about being unqualified for the task. “I felt the same way — not smart enough, not tough enough, not experienced. It’s not about you. It’s about what you want to fix.”
That doesn’t mean it will be easy for women going forward. When Couric asked if misogyny still exists significantly on Capitol Hill, Gillibrand quipped: “Is the sky blue?” It was an issue Gillibrand tackled in her book, Off the Sidelines, in which she documented comments made to her about her weight and appearance while walking the halls of Congress.
In addition to leading the passage of a health care bill for 9/11 first responders and the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policies, Gillibrand has been an ardent advocate of creating more accountability around sexual assaults in the armed forces — a cause that hasn’t gone far enough yet, she admits. She compared it to other attempts to reform what she calls “closed institutions,” such as the NFL dealing with athletes who engage in domestic abuse or the Catholic Church trying to weed out pedophile priests. “It takes all that much more effort to speak truth to power, get the stories out, but also create the consensus and move the mountain of actually getting laws changed,” she says. The rate of retaliation against women and men who report sexual assaults in the military is still 59 percent, Gillibrand said, while only 2 in 10 assaults are reported as crimes. The conviction rate in such cases is even more dismal.
The question of the Democratic Party’s future hovered in the air, in part because many forecast Gillibrand as one of the party’s standard-bearers in 2020. While she refused to talk about a potential presidential run, she did push back against the idea that progressive politicians like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were steering the party in an untenable direction. “President Trump ran on the [platform that] the system is rigged, which is Liz Warren’s message, and no bad trade deals, which was Bernie Sanders’ message,” she argued.
Continuing the populist theme, Gillibrand talked about education reform. “Why shouldn’t all federal student loans be refinanced at 4 percent?” she asked. And while her mentor Hillary Clinton didn’t become Madam President in November, the losing candidate has inspired the next generation of politicians. “She’s put the fire in the belly in so many women to come after her, to run, to win,” Gillibrand said. “I feel like we are so poised to fight harder than we ever have before.”