Gillibrand Announces She’s Running for President, Holds Hands With Colbert

(Updated) 'I believe I'm the woman for the job'

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee on Tuesday, making her first official step toward a White House bid in 2020.

In an interview on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," Gillibrand, after placing her hands on Colbert's in front of a cheering crowd, said she was entering the fold.

"I'm going to run for President of the United States, because as a young mom, I'm going to fight for other people's kids as hard as I would fight for my own," she said.

She went on to say she believed in heath care as a right and had the courage to fight the systems of "institutional racism" and "corruption and greed in Washington"—she has been in Congress since 2007—that made it difficult for people to rise into the middle class.

 

"I believe we’re all called to make a difference. I believe in right vs. wrong – that wrong wins when we do nothing. Now is our time to raise our voices and get off the sidelines," she tweeted, adding she wasn't afraid to take on President Donald Trump.

Exploratory committees allow candidates to raise money, hire staff and conduct polling for a potential presidential bid without yet formally declaring a run to the Federal Election Commission.

She joins a growing field of candidates that already includes Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), former Obama HUD Secretary Julián Castro, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D., Hawaii).

Among dozens of other Democrats exploring a run are former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.), Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), former New York City mayor Michael Blooomberg, former secretary of state John Kerry, former Attorney General Eric Holder, and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D., Texas).

Gillibrand will travel to Iowa for the first time this weekend. The country's first caucus state is a critical stop for any presidential candidate.

CNN reported on who will hold the top staff positions on her campaign:

Jess Fassler, Gillibrand's chief of staff, will work as the senator's campaign manager. Fassler has been with Gillibrand since she was a House member representing upstate New York.

Dan McNally, formerly the political director at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, will work as Gillibrand's campaign director. McNally, a longtime Democratic operative who managed Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet's 2016 campaign, has worked at both the DSCC and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Meredith Kelly, the former communications director for the DCCC, will be the senator's communications director. And Emmy Bengtson, digital director to Gavin Newsom's successful California gubernatorial campaign last year and deputy social media director for Hillary Clinton in 2016, will work as Gillibrand's deputy communications director.

She has a long way to go to build up her name recognition with voters, if a Quinnipiac poll last month is any indication. Just 14 percent of voters gave her a favorable rating—17 percent were unfavorable—and 68 percent of voters, including 64 percent of Democrats, hadn't heard enough about her to form an opinion.

Gillibrand has been one of Trump's most vehement critics in the Senate and voted the most often against his Cabinet nominees—she was the only lawmaker to vote against Gen. James Mattis leading the Pentagon in 2017.

Gillibrand claimed she would serve a full six-year term in the Senate before being reelected in November, but she soon after began signaling she would consider a run for the highest office. She told Colbert in November she would give it "consideration," and she said in multiple interviews since that she had to decide whether she was "called" to run.

BuzzFeed News reported Gillibrand met with 20 influential woman over the weekend to discuss her White House plans, and the outlet said her campaign is most likely to focus on "gender." Gillibrand has made a name for herself on the issue of sexual assault in the military, and she also led the charge to call on Sen. Al Franken (D., Minn.) to resign in 2017 following multiple accusations of sexual harassment.

She supported Hillary Clinton's 2016 bid for the presidency, but she said Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency in the 1990s over his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky.

She also was one of the leading Democratic voices against Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation fight last year. She declared him guilty of the sexual assault charge made against him by Christine Blasey Ford, memorably saying she believed Ford "because she's telling the truth."

"Judge Kavanaugh has not asked to have the FBI review these claims," she said in September. "Is that the reaction of an innocent person? It is not!"

Gillibrand, a former U.S. congresswoman, has been hit with charges of political opportunism during her career. Upon being appointed to the Senate in 2009 to fill the seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, Gillibrand shifted to the left on several issues, notably gun rights and immigration.

Pressed on her renouncement of her old views on "60 Minutes," the lawmaker previously given an "A" rating by the National Rifle Association said she met with Brooklyn families affected by gun violence and changed her mind.

"After I got appointed, I went down to Brooklyn to meet with families who had suffered from gun violence in their communities," she said. "And you immediately experience the feeling that I couldn't have been more wrong. I only had the lens of upstate New York."

She also blamed the district she formerly represented being "98 percent white" for having tougher views on illegal immigration earlier in her career.

The Republican National Committee told the Washington Free Beacon that Gillibrand's photo would be included with the definition of "political opportunism" in the dictionary.

"From jumping on the ‘abolish ICE’ bandwagon to turning on the Clintons, Gillibrand always goes where the political wind blows. Democrats know it, which is why she’s barely registering in the polls," RNC spokesman Michael Ahrens said.

UPDATE: Wednesday, 2:15 P.M.: This article was updated with a statement from the RNC.