CNN Town Hall: Kirsten Gillibrand

On Tuesday, April 9th, while millions of viewers worldwide were watching the CNN Town Hall with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand via televisions, smartphones, or laptops, I was watching the event live at the CNN Studios in Washington D.C. Surrounded by cameras and fellow AU Wonks, I was excited to hear directly from one of the six Democratic women running to be the Democratic Presidential Candidate in 2020.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand began her career in politics working at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In 2006, she ran for a seat in Congress in her life-long home district in Upstate New York (NY-20). Even though her district was a Republican majority, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand defeated the Republican incumbent for her seat in Congress. Senator Gillibrand began her first term in the Senate in 2009, making history as the youngest person ever elected to the Senate at the time and ahe is currently serving her 3rd term.

Gillibrand 2020

The 2020 Gillibrand campaign is focusing on bravery as their rallying cry for electing Gillibrand as the 2020 Democratic nominee. Senator Gillibrand tells the story of her grandmother and mother’s activism to show her inspiration to get involved in public service, outlining their bravery as the reason for hers. In 2010, Senator Gillibrand launched the organization, Off the Sidelines to empower women to raise their voices about issues they care about. Off the Sidelines provides services that recruits and supports women running for office, fosters a mentor program for young women to learn from professional women, and provides an action toolkit that gives women and girls resources to make a change in their own unique way.

In Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s official platform, she displays 5 key issues: restoring our values, fighting for women and families, getting corruption and greed out of government, making the economy work for us all and keeping America safe. In each key issue that she outlines, Senator Gillibrand explains specific policy proposals that she supports to solve such issues. One key policy Senator Gillibrand fights for is national paid family leave, which she has supported since 2013. In her platform, she also discusses how she has been a champion of the #MeToo movement, specifically explaining how she led the fight to push Democratic Senator Al Franken to resign after allegations of sexual harassment.

CNN Town Hall

At the CNN Town Hall, I was proud to be an AU Wonk as most of the people standing up to ask Senator Gillibrand questions were my fellow classmates. She was asked to discuss her stance on a wide variety of issues from health care to faith to the voting age to sexual assault. With each question, she took her time and attempted to respond to the questions in as much detail as possible while making eye contact with the constituent that posed the question.

When Senator Gillibrand didn’t have a thoughtful stance on an issue posed or a question asked, she would simply explain that and promise to research and think about the question that was asked. This happened twice throughout the night. One instance was regarding lowering the voting age to 16. Senator Gillibrand described her initial reactions to the idea, which were that she is unsure because it makes sense to her for the age to be 18 because that is when you are officially independent of your parents. Senator Gillibrand did say that she would keep her mind open to the idea and do some more research on it to come up with an official response.

Another question that was asked was whether she should make vaccines federally mandatory unless in the case of medical exemption, to protect against the spread of infections from people who are not vaccinated. Senator Gillibrand was very candid, she responded by admitting she had never thought of the idea before. She did acknowledge though that vaccines are necessary and explained that parents need more education on vaccines.

Senator Gillibrand also answered questions about her record on issues such as gun safety and immigration, as they have changed in recent years, very candidly. She didn’t try to dodge the questions nor did she become defensive, but instead she acknowledged how she has held problematic stances in the past, she apologized and explained how she plans to move forward. She has dramatically shifted on immigration policy. She used to be open to the idea of closing the border, but now she is for abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Senator Gillibrand has made similar shifts on issues of gun control, she used to have an ‘A’ rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA), but in recent years she has gotten an ‘F’ rating, which is now seen as the goal among liberals.

Through the honesty and connection she shared with the audience, one thing stuck out: how much she talks about Donald Trump. Most of her responses started with the discussion of her policy platform, but during each question Senator Gillibrand eventually shifted her focus to Donald Trump. She frequently called him out for his racism, sexism, and at one point she even called him a coward. The audience, like many people at home, was excited by her anger toward Trump, but that anger is not something unique to her in the same way her policy platform is unique to her. Many commentators of the town hall have pointed out that if she wants to win the Democratic nomination, she needs to start by beating the other candidates and not Trump.

The audience was eager to clap for all of Senator Gillibrand's passionate responses, but one question that the moderator, Erin Burnette, asked left the room silent. Towards the end of the town hall Brunette questioned Senator Gillibrand about her relationship with Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton was the senator of New York when Senator Gillibrand was running for her first term in Congress, and they became friends through their support of each others campaigns. At the CNN Town Hall, Senator Gillibrand even cited Hillary Clinton's infamous speech where she declared "women's rights are human rights and human rights are women's rights" as an inspiration for her start in politics.

Burnette was specifically asking Senator Gillibrand if she and Hillary were still friends, suggesting that they may have had a falling out after Senator Gillibrand was a loud voice in condemning Bill Clinton's relationship with his intern during his presidency. Erin Burnette wondered if Clinton forgave Senator Gillibrand for betraying her husband. Although the situation was awkward, Senator Gillibrand handled it gracefully as she explained that she and Hillary Clinton are still close, but explained that Burnette would have to ask Clinton about forgiveness because Senator Gillibrand can't speak for Clinton. 

Although there were ups and downs, as there is in any political event, Senator Gillibrand showed that she is in the race for the right reasons and will not back down in the face of struggle. She also showed that she truly cares about the people she is working to serve. During each commercial break, Senator Gillibrand walked through the audience until she shook every single hand. When the stage managers would start to count down, indicating that the commercial break was coming to an end, a CNN crew member would have to pull Senator Gillibrand away from the audience because she would be engulfed in a conversation with someone about their lives or politics. At the end of the town hall, Senator Gillibrand immediately went back to the crowd to greet everyone again and make conversation. Eventually, a picture line formed and took a picture with every single person in the line. If there is one thing that you learn about Senator Gillibrand, I hope it is that she genuinely cares about her job and her constituents. 

The Aftermath 

On the morning of April 9th, RealClearPolitics reported that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand holds 1.2% of the support in the Democratic 2020 Primary. She is virtually tied with Klobuchar, Castro and Yang and she is ahead of Delany and Gabbard. In comparison with RealClearPolitics reports after the April 9th CNN Town Hall, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand remained at 1.2% support. Her stagnation in the polls after the CNN Town Hall is not surprising since her townhall received historically low ratings as the lowest-rated cable show on that Tuesday night. CNN usually gets around one million views on their town halls, but Senator Gillibrand’s townhall only got 491,000 viewers.

Although Senator Gillibrand ranks lower in the polls compared to her fellow Democrats, she is still a more favorable candidate than Donald Trump. Data collected by the Public Policy Polling found that if given the choice, in 2020, between Senator Gillibrand and Donald Trump, 47% would vote for Senator Gillibrand, 41% would vote for Donald Trump, and 12% are unsure. That 6% lead Senator Gillibrand has on Donald Trump in this poll was consistent with the other Democratic women running and most of the men running as well. Joe Biden was the only potential Democratic candidate to achieve the 50% support rate.

To many political analysts and voters, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand does not seem like the obvious choice right now, but she is certainly ready for the fight and will stop at nothing to make sure Donald Trump does not win re-election. Whether she becomes the 2020 Democratic nominee or not, hopefully, the passion that she has for working for and with American people is contagious among other candidates and hopefully, it inspires more people like her to seek public office. 

(Photo Credits: 1, 2, 3)