'Energized' Kirsten Gillibrand Working Hard in Senate With White House Aspirations Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., talks to reporters following the Senate Democrats weekly policy luncheon on Capitol Hill on March 10, 2020, in Washington, D.C. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)
By Charlie McCarthy | Thursday, 20 May 2021 08:05 AM
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., still has eyes on living in the White House as she seeks overhauling military sex crime prosecutions and pushes for federal paid family.
"I definitely want to run for president again," Gillibrand told Politico in a story published Thursday. "I learned so much on that campaign: about myself, about the country, about how to be successful as a politician. I became a much better speaker and became better at my job."
Gillibrand, who briefly campaigned for the Democrat nomination in 2020, was appointed to the Senate in 2009 after Hillary Clinton became secretary of state. A former Congresswoman from upstate New York, she hit the national scene when leading the effort to oust former Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., amid multiple misconduct allegations.
Now, Gillibrand says she feels more "energized" than ever in the senate and is focusing on doing work that will help people and, no doubt, position her for another run at the nation’s top office.
She convinced Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, to join in her effort to overhaul military sex crime prosecutions. Gillibrand believes the two senators now can garner 75 votes for legislation that had been rejected repeatedly by her colleagues.
Ernst, a combat veteran, initially had turned down Gillibrand’s request to support the bill because she didn’t "want to completely shut out the chain of command." But the two senators became close friends and have compromised on the reform of sex-crimes accountability: Commanders would be notified of investigations.
Gillibrand's longtime push for federal paid family leave has helped the issue gain major traction within the Democratic Party. Politico said it had a real chance of being included in President Joe Biden's next big spending bill.
Once considered a moderate who promoted pro-gun rights, Gillibrand has evolved with her party and has become an outspoken progressive.
Admitting she did "not realize things take 10 years" in the Senate to pass legislation when she first arrived, Gillibrand has worked with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to make a 9/11 first responders’ fund permanent. She also introduced national paid leave policies well before they became popular and now is aiming to care for military personnel suffering from exposure to toxic burn pits.
"I tend to take on the issues that don't have champions and that are a bit harder to get done," she said, "but they need champions, because sexual assault survivors don't have big lobbyists. You've got to convince member, by member, by member."
The military sexual assault legislation would remove commanders' authority over whether to prosecute serious crimes. It could be included in the yearly defense policy bill, though Gillibrand would like a separate floor vote.
Privately, several senators said they nearly were exhausted by the number of times Gillibrand contacted them about supporting the proposal.
Though Senate Armed Services Chair Jack Reed, D-R.I., remains noncommittal on the legislation, Schumer said he’ll do "everything I can to help get it done."
"[Gillibrand] picks very hard issues that seem difficult to solve. And she’s undaunted," Schumer said. "She spends a lot of time talking to members [on the Senate floor]: There are times she’ll spend a half-hour sitting and talking."
Eager to pass the military assault legislation, Gillibrand is one of the few Democrats still working with Republicans who challenged the 2020 election. Sens. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, support the legislation.
Gillibrand does not chair a committee and is not considered a party leader. Still, she was among the first Senate Democrats to call for former President Donald Trump’s impeachment and was one of the first to seriously consider doing away with the chamber’s filibuster.
She said it's "not fair" for women politicians to carry the weight of evaluating sexual assault charges.
"That's why I think people associate me only with these things where it's like, there were 30 senators that had the same opinion [about Franken] at the same time, some at the same minute," she said. "That's the thing that's a bit strange about how people remember facts."