Gillibrand is subject of debate over Franken, Clinton

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has put herself in the spotlight by calling on Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to step down and saying President Clinton should have resigned during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Taking on major figures in her own party has bolstered the New York Democrat’s standing as a voice for change in the nation’s reckoning over sexual harassment and misconduct, which is reshaping society.

But it has also won her criticism. 

{mosads}Supporters of Clinton blasted Gillibrand as disloyal for her statements about Clinton, with some noting how the Clintons supported her over the years. 

Those sympathetic to Franken suggested it was craven for her to be the first out with a statement Wednesday calling for him to resign, and suggested she was both seeking attention and building her brand on a fallen progressive hero.

Gillibrand has won headlines with her action that could be useful if she chooses to run for president in 2020 against what could be a crowded field. 

Others said the moves could actually hurt her in a primary, where loyalists to Clinton and Franken will have long memories.

“All this reeks of is political opportunism and that’s what defines Kirsten Gillibrand’s career,” one Democratic strategist said. “Why wasn’t she talking about Bill Clinton when he was helping her during her various races for the House and Senate? And would she be talking about Bill Clinton today if Hillary Clinton was president? I think we all know the answer.”

When it came to Franken, Gillibrand was “twisting in the wind until the goose was cooked and then saw an opportunity,” the strategist added. 

Brent Budowsky, a longtime Democratic aide and columnist for The Hill, acknowledged that the New York senator has played a “leading role against sexual abuse … which is very positive and admired.” But he said behind the scenes, “there are some Democrats who did not appreciate the way she went after Bill Clinton.” 

He suggested the pressure on Franken helped Democrats gain the high ground against Republicans, but that it also won her criticism from some in the party.

Some of the criticism has been public and harsh.

Hours after she told The New York Times that the president should have resigned, Hillary Clinton’s longtime communications adviser, Philippe Reines, took to Twitter to blast her. 

“Ken Starr spent $70 million on a consensual blowjob. Senate voted to keep [President Clinton]. But not enough for you @SenGillibrand?” Reines tweeted. “Over 20 yrs you took the Clintons’ endorsements, money and seat. Hypocrite. Interesting strategy for 2020 primaries, best of luck.”

This week, Matt Lewis, the Daily Beast columnist, called the senator “the most devious and cunning politician in America today.” 

“It’s a woman who took Hillary Clinton’s seat, who sucked up to the Clintons for decades, and then totally turned on Bill Clinton and Hillary by the way, when the opportunity presented itself,” Lewis said on CNN. “I have no doubt that she actually does care about this issue but I think Al Franken was pretty good friends with her at one point. Now she’s turned on him. She’s stepping on a lot of people and maybe she might make it all the way to Pennsylvania Avenue in the process.” 

Those close to Gillibrand insist she wasn’t trying to make headlines on either Clinton or Franken. 

They say as someone who was dealing with sexual harassment issues for years, she felt an obligation to draw a red line — even if it had to deal with one of her colleagues. 

The confidants emphasize that she wasn’t trying to be “judge and jury,” as one put it. 

When Franken gave his speech, Gillibrand got teary-eyed and in the hours after his resignation, she felt terrible, the confidants say. 

Asked about her comments, a Gillibrand adviser referred The Hill to a Facebook post written by the senator earlier this week. 

In the post, Gillibrand talked about the decision she made to step forward and ask her colleague to resign from office. 

“But this moment of reckoning about our friends and colleagues who have been accused of sexual misconduct is necessary, and it is painful,” she wrote in the lengthy post. “We must not lose sight that this watershed moment is bigger than one industry, any one party, or any one person.” 

Some Democrats commend her for taking the lead on an issue that wasn’t gaining traction in recent weeks. Democratic strategist David Wade said Gillibrand “has made herself inseparable from the national conversation” on sexual harassment. 

“It certainly positions her as a generational leader for women politicians in the Democratic Party,” Wade said. “It’s a gamble in the short term. If you wind up with a Republican winning Franken’s Senate seat while Roy Moore ends up in the Senate, some people are going to say that she put her ambitions ahead of the interests of her caucus.” 

Moore is the Alabama GOP candidate for the Senate accused of predatory behavior toward a number of teenage girls. 

“But the sexual harassment issue isn’t going away, especially if Moore wins and Democrats force the Republican Party to wear Roy Moore like an ugly Christmas sweater,” Wade continued. 

“Her voice is going to automatically be relevant in the years ahead.”

Grant Reeher, the director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, said the criticism of Gillibrand “doesn’t ring true to me.” 

“If this were some calculated, inauthentic move to position herself for 2020, it’s a strange tactic to take, in pursuit of her party’s nomination,” Reeher said, adding that Gillibrand has been “staking out this area of expertise and interest for many years and has built much of her Senate career around it.” 

“She has been a leading spokesperson in the chamber for women’s issues and women’s rights and it’s not surprising to me at all that she would be one of the first Democrats to call out Sen. Franken and when the conversation inevitably turned to him, President Clinton,” he said. 

But one Democratic strategist compared Gillibrand’s recent efforts to a speech former senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) delivered at the height of the Lewinsky saga condemning Bill Clinton. 

“Lieberman raced to be the first to say publicly what his colleagues were all saying privately, because he saw where the political winds were blowing and he wanted to be Al Gore’s running mate,” the strategist said.

Gillibrand, the strategist added, “has the same hunger for advancement.” 

Tags Al Franken Al Gore Bill Clinton Hillary Clinton Kirsten Gillibrand

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