Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and President Donald Trump got into a he said-she said argument Tuesday over a Tweet made by the president.
Gillibrand, who’s up for re-election next year and is considered a possible presidential contender in 2020, has been an outspoken voice in the national debate over how to confront sexual assault and harassment.
She’s argued that the rules in institutions from Congress to Hollywood to the U.S. military are set to benefit the powerful and the favored at the expense of the vulnerable.
She’s scathed icons in her own party along the way.
Gillibrand was appointed to Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat, but she recently said Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency for his improprieties. That led Clinton loyalists to criticize her as an ungrateful opportunist.
The back-and-forth between Trump and Gillibrand came as a wave of sexual misconduct allegations roils Capitol Hill, forcing several lawmakers out of office in just the last week alone. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., announced he would resign amid an ethics probe into accusations that he sexually harassed several women. Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Trent Franks, R-Ariz., also quit after misconduct accusations surfaced.
“I do think this is a reckoning. This is a watershed moment,” Gillibrand said of the resignations in speaking to The Associated Press late last week. “Politicians should be held to the highest standards, not the lowest standards.”
“It has nothing to do with politics. This whole debate is, ‘Do we care about women,'” said Gillibrand, who was one of the first Democrats to call for Franken to step down.
Gillibrand served notice several years ago that combating sexual assault would be her issue. A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, she and other female lawmakers dressed down senior military leaders at a headline-making hearing, insisting sexual assault in the ranks has cost the services the trust and respect of the American people as well as the nation’s men and women in uniform.
“Not every single commander necessarily wants women in the force. Not every single commander believes what a sexual assault is. Not every single commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and a rape because they merge all of these crimes together,” Gillibrand told the uniformed men in 2013.
Gillibrand added Trump to her list of men to attack over allegations of sexual harassment. She called for him to resign in the face of accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior. A day after her broadside, Trump refuted her statements.
The president tweeted:
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2017
Gillibrand was at a bipartisan Bible study in the office of Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., when she stepped out to take a call alerting her to Trump’s tweet. She fired back, calling the president’s tweet a “sexist smear” aimed at silencing her voice. She also renewed her call for a congressional inquiry into the accusations against Trump.
Gillibrand silently shook her head at the idea that she had “begged” Trump for campaign contributions.
Democrats rushed to Gillibrand’s defense.
Are you really trying to bully, intimidate and slut-shame @SenGillibrand? Do you know who you're picking a fight with? Good luck with that, @realDonaldTrump. Nevertheless, #shepersisted. https://t.co/mYJtBZfxiu
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) December 12, 2017
Many people have wondered if Warren was defending Gillibrand or adding fuel to the fire by using the negative phrase, “slut-shame.”
At the White House, however, Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “there’s no way” the president’s tweet was “sexist at all.” She said Trump was talking about a rigged political system and the fact that lawmakers repeatedly plead for money.
Federal Election Commission records show Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump donated nearly $8,000 to Gillibrand’s congressional campaigns.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.