Who ever imagined the raised fist of anti-Trump resistance in the U.S. Senate would be so tiny and so white? Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is an unlikely firebrand, but we live in strange times.
When N.Y. Gov. David Paterson picked her to fill Hillary Clinton’s empty Senate seat in 2009, she was an unknown centrist from a mostly Republican upstate district. Her staunchly anti-immigration and pro-gun views raised eyebrows among her Democratic colleagues in Congress.
Kirsten Gillibrand is known for reaching across the aisle. She’s worked closely with her GOP colleagues to get legislation like the 9/11 Health Act passed. She’s also devout Christian who attends a weekly Prayer Breakfast and two Bible Study groups with them (these are also open to House and Senate Democrats, but few attend).
But in January, it was like a switch flipped. While even Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) seemed to want to give the GOP’s president Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt, Kirsten Gillibrand wasn’t having it. She alone voted against all of his cabinet picks except for Nikki Haley as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Then, she delivered a fiery anti-Trump speech in February at the First Corinthian Baptist Church, a historically black church in Harlem. Speaking to the wave of hate crimes since the Electoral College put Donald Trump in the White House, Kirsten Gillibrand announced:
“In our schools we’re hearing about bullying. We’re seeing harassment at supermarkets. We see KKK flyers being passed around on a town in Long Island. We’ve seen an epithet written on a family’s door…This onslaught of hate [is] coming out from every direction in Washington, the highest places in this country.”
Kirsten Gillibrand then retold the Bible story of Esther saving the Jewish people in their time of need. Like an actual follower of Christ — as opposed to the faux Christian poseurs who back our hater-in-chief — she declared:
“The struggle is not against the flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities and the powers of this dark world…It’s time that we take a stand. We take action. We stand up to the bullying. We stand up to the hateful words. We protect those least among us. We protect the vulnerable.”
On Tuesday, Kirsten Gillibrand’s interview with New York Magazine hit the news stands. First, they noted another impassioned speech she gave at the Bridge Street AME Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant. There, she called on worshippers to “put on the full armor of God, so that on the day evil comes, today, you’ll be able to stand your ground.”
The improbability of Gillibrand’s preaching skills matches the improbability of her role as a Democratic holy warrior against Donald Trump.
The petite, blond, conservatively dressed, holy rolling Senator also uses some startlingly pungent language. When asked about what made her vote against Donald Trump’s cabinet picks during what’s supposed to be his “honeymoon period.” Kirsten Gillibrand bluntly answered:
“I look at each nominee. If they suck, I vote against them. If they’re worthy, I vote for them.”
As for why she’s changed her views on issues like immigration, the New York senator explained that it has a lot to do with empathy and hearing people’s real-life stories. Kirsten Gillibrand insists that lack of empathy is a huge problem in Washington.
“…not enough people have enough empathy. They can’t put themselves in someone else’s shoes. If they’ve lived an affluent life, they can’t imagine how expensive day care is. They don’t know why paid leave is important. They just don’t see it.”
Her solution? More women need to run for office. She’s even started a PAC, Off the Sidelines, to help women run.
“Just literally having 51 percent of women in Congress representing the diversity of our country: You would have different issues raised, different solutions being offered, you’d have less partisan bickering. Because our disposition is to help.”
And that’s why she’s been able to work with Republicans like Susan Collins (R-Maine), with whom she recently put forward a bill to fight financial fraud against seniors.
“I know Susan’s worldview is similar to my worldview. Which is that we’re here to help people, and if we’re not helping people, we should go the fuck home.”
If only more of our lawmakers shared that philosophy.
Watch: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand delivers an electrifying speech at First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, N.Y.
Featured image: Video screen grab via FCBC.