Gillibrand Faces Democratic Backlash as She Mulls 2020 Bid

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand /
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand / Getty Images
February 15, 2018

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) is one of several Senate Democrats jockeying for potential 2020 presidential runs, but her brazen style has received backlash from many fellow Democrats who view her as a political opportunist.

Between Gillibrand's high-profile CBS "60 Minutes" interview that aired on Sunday, which called her one of the "most prominent political faces of the #MeToo movement," and her public criticism of former Sen. Al Franken (D., Minn.) and former President Bill Clinton over the sexual misconduct allegations leveled against them, the senator has become a controversial lighting rod within the establishment wing of the Democratic Party, according to the Hill.

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 Alida 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 Clinton 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."

Despite drawing ill will from within her party, Gillibrand has not reached out to Clinton about her comments, the Hill reported. Gillibrand declined to comment when asked during her "60 Minutes" interview whether she had contacted the Clintons.

"I can tell you one thing: I can tell you that Hillary Clinton is still my greatest role model in politics," she said.

Gillibrand's supporters have defended her long history of speaking out on behalf of women against sexual assault, noting how she clashed with former Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D., Mich.) back in 2013 over the issue of prosecuting sexual assaults in the military.

Glen Caplin, a spokesman for Gillibrand, defended the senator by quoting one of her old Facebook posts about fighting against sexual assault and harassment.

Democratic donors were not as generous with their words, saying that she has made several errors in the last few months, the Hill reported.

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.

"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.

Prior to filling former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's old Senate seat in 2009, Gillibrand served in a rural Republican-leaning New York district as a congresswoman. As a member of the House, Gillibrand held conservative positions on guns and immigration. She received an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association and was a critic of sanctuary cities and amnesty. She also supported accelerated deportations.

Gillibrand will likely have to explain those previous stances if she runs for president. They are at odds with Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass,) and Kamala Harris (Calif.), two of her potential 2020 rivals who identify with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

Gillibrand explained her previous immigration views on "60 Minutes," saying that her former congressional district was 98 percent white.

"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 said.