MANHATTAN (CN) – Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand kicked off her presidential campaign Sunday, mere feet from the Trump International Hotel on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, calling President Donald Trump a coward.
“President Trump is tearing apart the moral fabric of his country,” she said. “He demonizes the most vulnerable and he punches down. He puts his name in bold on every building. He does this because he wants you to believe he is strong. He is not. Our president is a coward.”
The crowd of supporters cheered under a glaring midday sun.
“Look up at that tower,” Gillibrand continued. “A shrine to greed, division and vanity. Now, look around you. The greater strength by far is ours. We are here to reject the politics of fear and hate, to listen to what Lincoln called our better angels of our nature, because the ideals of this country – opportunity, equality, justice – are worth fighting for.”
Handfuls of Trump supporters chanted and held up signs at the back of the crowd throughout Gillibrand’s half-hour speech, which focused on the theme of bravery. Her campaign slogan is “Brave Wins.”
The senator called for a range of well-known progressive ideals: bold action on climate change, national paid leave and universal pre-K, transparency in government, “Medicare for All,” affordable college, union rights, an end to cash bail and the legalization of marijuana.
She also demanded the full release of Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections, which Mueller delivered to U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Friday.
“The Mueller report must be made public,” Gillibrand said. “All of it. Nobody in this country, even the president, is above the law or immune from accountability.”
Gillibrand spent a significant portion of her speech on climate, calling for passage of the Green New Deal and a price on carbon.
“We need to treat global climate change like the existential threat that it is,” she said to cheers, adding that addressing a “global challenge of this urgency” would take “massive effort.” But that, Gillibrand continued, is exactly why she wants to do it.
“John F. Kennedy said he wanted to put a man on the moon in the next ten years, not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard. I believe we should look at global climate change exactly the same way,” she said. “We should aspire to net zero carbon emissions in the next ten years, not because it’s easy but because it’s hard.”
In calling for national paid leave, one of her longtime signature issues, Gillibrand called it “outrageous” that the U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world without the policy.
“You should never have to risk your job and income to take
care of a new baby, a sick family member or your own medical needs,” she said.
“I refuse to accept the false choice between your paycheck and your family.”
Paid leave, equal pay and affordable pay are economic issues, Gillibrand added, not just women’s issues.
She also called for raising the national minimum wage to $15 an hour and expanding the G.I. Bill to cover free college for national public servants. She intends to help dismantle institutional racism in part by demanding higher standards for maternity care, legalizing marijuana and ending cash bail, she said.
Gillibrand was introduced by her friend Connie Britton, an actor and activist who roomed with her on a college study-abroad trip in Beijing in the 1980s. Britton is best known for her role in the television series “Friday Night Lights.”
“We grew braver that summer, and we had so many adventures,” Britton said, “always with Kirsten in the lead. She was the brave one. She was the fearless one. I hadn’t seen fearlessness and self-confidence like that before in my life, and it was inspiring and calming, actually.”
Gillibrand’s integrity, Britton said, runs deep.
Gillibrand officially announced her candidacy a week ago via video and made stops in Iowa, Michigan and Nevada before her arrival in the Big Apple.
She first announced her exploratory committee on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in January.
In recent polling data compiled by RealClearPolitics, Gillibrand garnered just 0.8 percent support, tied for dead last in the field with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Former Vice President Joe Biden – who has still not yet publicly announced his long rumored candidacy – led the charge with nearly 30 percent support, followed by Sens. Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris.
The 2020 Democratic primary field is the most diverse in history. Gillibrand, 52, is one of 16 candidates who have announced so far, including six women.
Gillibrand’s campaign website pledges no campaign dollars from corporate PACs, federal lobbyists, or individual super PACs, and she has sworn off fossil fuel money as well, all ideals she repeated in her remarks Sunday.
The Albany-raised Gillibrand’s politics have shifted steadily left, at times rapidly, during her time in public office. She entered Congress in 2007, serving as U.S. Rep. for New York’s upstate 20th district until 2009, when she ran to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat when Clinton left to become Secretary of State in President Barack Obama’s administration.
During her 2018 re-election campaign for the Senate, Gillibrand repeatedly told reporters she would serve out the six-year term despite wide speculation she would launch a 2020 presidential bid. She won the senatorial office with 67 percent of the vote.
As a Democratic congresswoman, Gillibrand was a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of fiscally conservative and moderate Democrats. She once held an A rating from the National Rifle Association; the group has since demoted her to an F.
Gillibrand has long made women’s rights a centerpiece of her governance. One of the first bills to put her on the map nationally was the Military Justice Improvement Act, which Gillibrand introduced in 2013 in an effort to reform the way sexual assault is handled in the U.S. military.
Gillibrand was the first, and one of the loudest, politicians to call for Minnesota Sen. Al Franken’s resignation after allegations broke that he had groped women – a position she has continued to stand behind. She was also the first senator to join the “Abolish ICE” movement last summer.
President Trump attacked Sen. Gillibrand in December 2017 in a widely criticized tweet that Gillibrand herself labeled a “sexist smear.”
“Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office “begging” for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!” Trump tweeted in December 2017.
She promptly responded.
“You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office,” Gillibrand wrote on her own Twitter account.
She’s also faced her share of controversy. A female Gillibrand staffer resigned last summer in protest over what she said was a botched sexual harassment investigation by the office. Gillibrand defended her handling of the incident. After more allegations, the accused male aide, Abbas Malik, was fired.
She’s also faced criticism for close ties to Wall Street donors.
The sixth Congresswoman to give birth during her term, Gillibrand is the mother of two boys, Theo and Henry.
She told her supporters Sunday that she has stood up to Donald Trump more than anyone else in the Senate.
“I will go toe-to-toe with anyone to do the right thing,” she said, including members of her own party.
“But I am not running for president because of who I’m fighting against. I’m running for president because of who I’m fighting for.”