As the parable goes, in New York, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.
Such is the case of Kirsten Gillibrand, the Democratic junior senator from New York who finds herself in a precarious moment — at the crossroads of grit, political firestorms, and timing.
From that night in 2016 when Donald Trump defied expectations and ascended to the Presidency, Gillibrand positioned herself at the forefront of women’s issues. Trump took notice, and, another moment was marked in which Gillibrand addressed the comments head-on calling them a “sexist smear.”
In a town like Washington, where every moment serves an explicit or implicit purpose, many have taken notice of Gillibrand, particularly, her leadership on women’s rights issues, and some are left wondering whether the Empire State senator is preparing to conquer the White House.
Gillibrand’s U.S. Senate career began in the House of Representatives where she served the people of New York’s 20th Congressional District. Her predecessor, Hillary Clinton, left the seat open after President Obama nominated her to be the Secretary of State. In 2009, Gov. David Paterson appointed Gillibrand to finish Clinton’s term. After a special election, Gillibrand won a full term to the Senate.
Since joining the upper chamber, the Albany native has grown her influence and profile on Capitol Hill. However, each time her national profile expands, so too, does her base of critics. Some describe her as an opportunist who is only positioning herself based on the current political climate. Gillibrand’s original Congressional district was conservative. Early on she earned an A rating from the NRA only to transition to an F years later in the Senate where she has grown into a more progressive and liberal Democrat.
Gillibrand spearheaded efforts to reform sexual harassment policies on Capitol Hill and became a vocal, public face for Democratic opposition to Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. She’s developed a reputation as the #MeToo senator was the first Democratic senator to call for the resignation of her colleague Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) after he was hit with accusations of sexual harassment. Gillibrand has also shown she’s not afraid to go after party icons. Last November, Gillibrand sparked headlines after saying former President Bill Clinton should have resigned after his extramarital affair with a White House Intern became public knowledge — an unexpected sentiment from someone who was once mentored by Hillary Clinton.
There have been moments outside of New York and Washington, particularly during this mid-term election cycle, where Gillibrand took to the road to help campaign for other Democrats and progressive candidates, most recently, outside of Philadelphia, where she campaigned alongside four Democratic congressional and state House candidates.
All this progress beckons the question among Washington insiders: What’s the endgame? Being the junior senator representing New York may no longer be part of the profile Gillibrand continues to build for herself. When it comes to 2020, the mere prospect of the topic sends senators into a heightened state of alert around the Capitol with words chosen carefully. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are being viewed through a possible presidential lens and have been quietly laying the ground work for a possible run. Gillibrand hasn’t tipped her cards, but her moments are being closely watched by many. When asked by a handful of news organizations about her White House aspirations, she says she wants to focus on serving the people of New York while trying to win back the Senate for Democrats.
Other future scenarios are possible in which Gillibrand could be tapped for a cabinet-level position by a future Democratic president, or possibly a running mate. For now, Gillibrand is seeking her own re-election to return to the Senate for another six-year term.
As for what comes next? Gillibrand won’t speculate on the distant future, but, given the current state of politics in Washington and around the country, if this nation is experiencing a defining, national, make-or-break moment — Gillibrand may be poised to seize it.