Commentary

Kirsten Gillibrand Is an Enthusiastic NO

There’s plenty of speculation that Gillibrand will take her own advice and run for president in 2020. “It would not surprise me if Kirsten were a candidate for higher office some day,” says Collins. “She has enormous ability, she works extremely hard, she’s engaging, she’s young. And don’t take that as an endorsement, or I’ll be in even more trouble than I am now.”

Gillibrand, for her part, offers the standard politician’s denial: “I am running for the Senate in 2018.” But what is clear is that Gillibrand, who constantly carries a pad of paper with her, has been taking notes on the political moment. Though she supported Clinton over Sanders in 2016, she has much in common with the populist senator from Vermont. Like Sanders, she has often stood apart from Democrats. She “got an earful” for her vote against TARP, she says, and recalls her failed efforts to save $4 billion cut from SNAP benefits in the farm bill, which only 28 of her fellow Democrats supported, as “so heartbreaking.”

And like Sanders, she sees in left-wing populism — in affordable day care and paid leave and the expansion of Medicare as a means of addressing economic inequality — a path for red and blue America to come together. Sanders spoke alongside Gillibrand in March at a press conference in support of the Family Act, and Gillibrand is very enthusiastic about becoming a co-sponsor of Sanders’s forthcoming Medicare for All bill. “People want affordable health care,” she says. For the record, she’s not late to that party; Gillibrand supported Medicare for everyone when she ran in her House district in 2006. “It’s the solution, and it makes sense to people even in my two-to-one Republican district.”

Her fixation on populism and grassroots politics may be strategic, but the strategy does seem to dovetail with her ideals. After half a dozen conversations, when I ask her again about Democratic strategy going forward, she fixes me with a hard stare. “I am exceedingly sincere when I say this,” she says. “People only defeat Trumpism if everyone uses their voices on whatever platform they have available to them.”

She begins to tick through examples: the teen in Maine who wrote a letter to the Bangor Daily News and got Senator Angus King to write back to her on the issue of military sexual assault; the town halls that resulted in the eventual implosion of Obamacare repeal. “These things are real examples. I believe this. I truly believe it. It’s not bullshit,” she says.

Her main worry is that people will get tired — that eight weeks feels like eight years already, that this level of mass political engagement cannot be sustained. For that reason she tries to put this progressive fight into the context of battles past. “I’ve been doing a lot of study about the suffrage movement,” Gillibrand says, speaking to the women at the Wing. “Some of these ladies worked their whole lives and never got the right to vote. They literally worked a full 60 to 70 years.” She pauses, and I get the sense that she’s steeling herself as well. “So we can keep this up at least for two years, and then we can do it for another two.”

Source: Kirsten Gillibrand Is an Enthusiastic NO; NY Mag

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