Gillibrand Pressed by Maddow on Previous 'Conservative Bona Fides,' Apologizes for Being 'Callous' on Immigration

Maddow: Gillibrand 'has been on her own party's right, she has been on her own party's left'

January 16, 2019

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) apologized for holding "callous" views on immigration amidst a broader mea culpa over her formerly conservative views Wednesday on "The Rachel Maddow Show."

Gillibrand announced Tuesday she was running for president, joining a 2020 Democratic field that could be the most crowded in history. Formerly a U.S. representative in upstate New York before being appointed to the Senate, Gillibrand has established herself as one of the chamber's most liberal members and is forming her campaign in part around her advocacy for women.

However, Maddow didn't let her off the hook for her old views on issues like guns and immigration in the introduction to their interview, discussing what she called Gillibrand's "conservative bona fides" in unseating a GOP congressman in New York in 2006. Gillibrand used the expression "illegal aliens," now a huge no-no for progressives, called for making English the country's official language, and had an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association.

"Senator Gillibrand has had a transformation. She has changed a great deal on policy in the decade since she was a card-carrying member of the Blue Dog Democrats," Maddow said. "She has been on her own party's right. She has been on her own party's left."

Asked to explain her "transformation," Gillibrand told a familiar story about meeting families in Brooklyn that motivated her to fight more strongly against gun violence.

"I recognized I didn't know everything about the whole state ... I just knew I was wrong," she said, going on to tout being a "leader" on gun control measures.

Maddow reminded Gillibrand she once said she was "embarrassed" by her previous positions on immigration.

"Well, I don't think it was driven from my heart. I was callous to the suffering of families who want to be with their loved ones, people who want to be reunited with their families," Gillibrand said. "I recognize, as we all do, that immigration and diversity is our strength as a country. It's always driven our economy. It's the American story. So looking back, I just, I really regretted that I didn't look beyond my district and talk about why this is an important part of the United States story and why it's an important part of our strength."