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Kirsten Gillibrand grabs the greasy pole

The New York senator announced her exploratory committee on Stephen Colbert’s show

January 16, 2019

12:03 AM

16 January 2019

12:03 AM

Kirsten Gillibrand has always been a woman of the moment. But has her moment passed?

She obviously doesn’t think so, and the New York senator was riding high in one poll on Tuesday night — she was trending on Twitter across the country.

Gillibrand appeared on the top-rated late-night talk show, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, on which the host asked the Democrat the question no one has been asking. ‘I’m just curious — do you have anything you would like to announce?’ She grabbed Colbert’s hands, holding them hokily on his desk for a few moments before answering. ‘I’m filing [pause] an exploratory committee [pause] for president of the United States [pause] TONIGHT!’

It doesn’t have quite the same ring as ‘I’m running for president,’ but nobody seems to jump enthusiastically into the ring anymore in America. (She was a bit less legalistic on Twitter, writing, ‘Tonight I announced that I’m preparing to run for president, because I believe we’re all called to make a difference.’)

And it turns out that first sentence was the most authentic-sounding statement she uttered on the show. Gillibrand sounded wooden as she made her first pitch to American voters, without interruption from the man tasked with keeping his audience entertained. (CNN’s media critic Brian Stelter noted in a piece published yesterday titled ‘Welcome to the Stephen Colbert primary,’ ‘Colbert’s interviews with politicians have not been a drag on the show’s ratings. If anything, they’ve been a boon.’ He warned us to expect more of them as the Democratic race to replace Donald Trump in 2020 heats up.)

Gillibrand has moved fully from Blue Dog to attack dog, presenting herself on the show as a sort of tough maternal figure who would do whatever it takes to protect her young. In response to Colbert’s second softball question, she declared, ‘I’m going to run for president of the United States because as a young mom, I’m going to fight for other people’s kids as hard as I would fight for my own. Which is why I believe that health care should be a right and not a privilege.’ (Gillibrand is 52 years old). She talked about the need for better public schools and free job training programs — not exactly issues certain to fire up voters in any part of the country. She then spoke generally of ‘institutional racism’ and ‘corruption and greed in Washington’ before proclaiming, ‘And I know that I have the compassion, the courage, and the fearless determination to get that done.’

There’s no question she has that last one. She’s been fearlessly determined to attain office and climb up the greasy pole, and she’ll say what she thinks is necessary to succeed. Never mind her declaration just a few months ago, in a debate, when asked if she had plans to run for president that she would ‘serve my six-year term’ in the Senate. When she ran for Congress in a conservative upstate New York district, she talked of her love of guns and her dislike of any sort of amnesty for people in the country illegally. On winning the seat in 2006, she joined the Blue Dog caucus of moderate, fiscally responsible Democrats. But when she was appointed to the Senate in 2009 to fill the seat vacated when Barack Obama appointed Hillary Clinton secretary of state, she changed her tune, aligning herself with more progressive causes to assure she’d win elections for the position that’s voted on statewide by New Yorkers who are generally more liberal than those of her congressional constituency. She once had an A rating from the National Rifle Association; it went down to F. She was the first sitting senator to call for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be abolished, and she co-sponsored Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All bill. She performed a mea culpa last year on 60 Minutes, saying she was ‘embarrassed’ about her previous positions on immigration and gun rights.

She was the first sitting Democratic senator to do one other notable thing: call for the resignation of her colleague Sen. Al Franken. She had already positioned herself as a leader on what some call ‘women’s issues,’ and she’d championed the #MeToo movement from its inception. Almost as soon as Franken began facing allegations of sexual misconduct, Gillibrand demanded he leave politics. She got what she wanted — but Franken may get his revenge. Many of the replies to Gillibrand’s tweets announcing her intention to prepare to run for president came from her fellow travelers who haven’t forgotten she helped take down one of their own. ‘No hearing for Franken no vote for you,’ one declared. Suggesting the #MeToo movement’s moment might be over for some, another said simply, ‘#NoThanks.’

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