Kirsten Gillibrand is currently the junior senator from the state of New York. She is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination in the 2020 presidential election. Gillibrand is from upstate New York and previously represented New York’s 20th congressional district before being appointed to the U.S. Senate. Prior to her time in Congress, Gillibrand was a corporate attorney.
Gillibrand is known for taking more liberal stances in the Senate after representing a more conservative district in the U.S. House. She has centered her campaign around women’s issues and supports Medicare for All and abolishing ICE.
Kirsten Gillibrand, nee Rutnik, was born in Albany, New York on December 9, 1966.
Gillibrand graduated from Dartmouth University with a major in Asian studies in 1988. She studied abroad at Beijing Normal University. Gillibrand alsostudied abroad at Tunghai University in Taiwan through the University of Massachusetts.
Upon graduating from Dartmouth, she enrolled at UCLA Law School. In the summer of 1989, Gillibrand worked as a summer associate at Shea and Gold law firm. During the summer of 1990, she interned for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. In the fall of that same year, Gillibrand interned at the United Nations Crime Prevention in Vienna, Austria.
From 1991 until 2000, Gillibrand worked at the Manhattan law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell. Gillibrand took a leave of absence from the firm in 1992 to clerk for U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Roger Miner, a Republican nominee.
In 2000, Gillibrand served as a special counsel for Andrew Cuomo, then-secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
From 2001 until 2005, Gillibrandworked at the Boies Schiller law firm.
On November 7, 2006, she waselected as the representative of New York’s 20th congressional district, defeating John Sweeney (R).
In 2008, Gillibrand wasre-elected to the House, defeating Sandy Treadwell (R).
In January 2009, Gov. David Paterson (D) appointed Gillibrand to fill the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. In November 2010, she won election to the U.S. Senate to complete the remaining two years of Hillary Clinton’s term, defeating Joseph DioGuardi (R).
Gillibrand was re-elected in 2012 to the U.S. Senate, defeating Wendy Long (R).
In September of 2014,Gillibrand’s book Off The Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change The World was published.
Political and Professional Background
Prior to her days in the House and Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand worked in Manhattan as a high-powered attorney at white-shoe law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell. Gillibrand’s big break at the firm came as the leader of a team of associate lawyers who defended tobacco giant Philip Morris against the U.S. Justice Department.
The work revolved around an effort to block the Department of Justice from “obtaining research from the company’s German lab to prove tobacco industry executives had lied about the dangers of smoking in 1996.”
Gillibrand’s colleagues note that she was assigned more responsibility than the average associate, such as being the main point of contact with Philip Morris executives, due to her enthusiastic embrace of the lucrative project.
Lawyers at Davis Polk were given the option to decline to work on certain cases if they had moral objections to the client’s work. Gillibrand did not take that opportunity.
Gillibrand helped to limit what evidence the government obtained and “monitored the testimony of witnesses who appeared before the grand jury and wrote strategy memos … analyzing the witnesses’ statements and their impact on the investigation.”
In 1998, Gillibrand was on a team of lawyers who unsuccessfully attempted to persuade another tobacco company of refusing to cooperate with prosecutors. Philip Morris also leaned on Gillibrand to help with business strategy as the company dealt with “mounting public unease about its product and practices.”
In Gillibrand’s 2008 Congressional race, she “accepted $18,200 in campaign donations from tobacco companies and their executives putting her among the top dozen House Democrats for such contributions.”
While serving in the House, Gillibrand belonged to the Blue Dog Caucus, “an alliance of mostly southern fiscally and socially conservative Democrats.” According to FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, “Gillibrand, statistically speaking, has been one of the more conservative Democrats in the House. Moreover, she is a somewhat proud conservative, being a member of the Blue Dog Caucus.”
When she was appointed to the Senate, her positions began to quickly evolve further left. Senator Chuck Schumertold Gillibrand to “slow down” after she began reversing her positions in the Senate that she once held in the House.
During the beginning of her Senate career, Gillibrand was a champion of Wall Street and even “reached out to financial industry executives and refrained from the kind of anti-Wall Street rhetoric used by liberals in her party.”
According to The New Yorker, “Gillibrand receives more cash from Goldman Sachs than any other member of Congress. Though not wholly surprising for a Senator who represents New York City, that fact conflicts with her self-image as the voice of the vulnerable.”
Gillibrand has worked to establish a reputation as a leader within the #MeToo movement. A December 2017 New York Timesprofile declared Gillibrand “has made sure to stay out front in the reckoning” over the issues of sexual harassment and assault.
In 2017, Gillibrand led a coordinated group of female Senators who called on Democratic Senator Al Franken to resign amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Gillibrand cited the need to send a ‘clear message’ by pushing Franken to resign from office.
However, in 2019 Gillibrand has had to deal with sexual harassment allegations within her own Senate office when “a mid-20s female aide to Gillibrand resigned in protest over the handling of her sexual harassment complaint by Gillibrand’s office, and criticized the senator for failing to abide by her own public standards.”
Gillibrand defended herself saying it didn’t rise to the level of harassment, but Politico noted the inquiry “left out key former staffers” and “did not contact two former employees whom the woman said could corroborate and add to her allegations of inappropriate workplace conduct.”
On the Issues
As a House member, Gillibrand won the NRA endorsement and was given an “A” rating. While Gillibrand was in the House, “she voted with the NRA 100 percent of the time,” supported a bill lifting gun restrictions in the District of Columbia, and co-sponsored legislation “that would make it more difficult for law-enforcement agencies to access gun-trace data.”
The day after she was appointed to the Senate, Gillibrand indicated she could be flexible on the issue of gun control. Within her first few months in the Senate, “Gillibrand came out and opposed one of the very bills she had cosponsored in the house” on the Second Amendment. Gillibrand’s NRA grade quickly tumbled from an “A” to an “F.”
In 2009, immigration activists criticized Gillibrand’s opposition to amnesty. Two days prior to Gillibrand being sworn into the Senate, El Diario published an article headlined “Anti Inmigrante” highlighting Gillibrand’s opposition to amnesty for undocumented immigrants.
Gillibrand laterhired a consulting firm to “listen and learn” about Latino’s priorities.
In April 2017, Kirsten Gillibrand defended her change in position on Immigration, said “my district was 98 percent white … I hadn’t sat down with people to know what it feels like to live with constant racism, to live with the constant threat of families being torn apart.”
In a February 2018 “60 Minutes” interview, Gillibrand stated she “hadn’t really spent the time” to understand immigration issues previously, “that was my fault,” and “it was something that I’m Embarrassed about and that I’m ashamed of.”
In June of 2018, Gillibrand became the first sitting Democratic senator to support abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).
As a House member, Kirsten Gillibrand received the lowest ratings among New York Democrats on gay rights issues from the Human Rights Campaign. In 2007, Gillibrand declined to co-sponsor legislation that would have repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
In June 2009, Gillibrand wrote a Daily Kos diary declaring her opposition to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell policy.” In April 2009, Gillibrand announced her support for New York’s same-sex marriage proposal but did not endorse same-sex marriage as a House member.
In 2017, Kirsten Gillibrand came out in support of single-payer healthcare. From 2006 to 2017, Gillibrand supported “Medicare for All” legislation where “anyone can buy into Medicare for a price they can Afford.” “However, Gillibrand in the past hasn’t used the phrase ‘Medicare for all’ as a substitute for ‘single-payer.’
Buffalo News: In presidential run, Kirsten Gillibrand vows for reform as critics cite flip-flops
Washington Free Beacon: Gillibrand Defends Flip-Flops: ‘It’s Important to Know When You’re Wrong’
CNN: How Kirsten Gillibrand went from pushing for more deportations to wanting to abolish ICE
Washington Free Beacon: Gillibrand: Packing Supreme Court Is ‘Interesting Idea’
CNN: Gillibrand signed 2008 amicus brief with Dick Cheney, lawmakers in support of overturning DC handgun ban
Washington Free Beacon: Gillibrand Took $2,400 From Family She Would Prosecute for Profiting Off Opioid Crisis
Washington Examiner: Kirsten Gillibrand says her ‘values are never for sale.’ Here are the receipts
NY State of Politics: Gillibrand Doubles Down on Abolishing ICE
The Washington Times: Kirsten Gillibrand vows to serve full six-year term