Kirsten Gillibrand was born Kirsten Elizabeth Rutnik on December 9, 1966, in Albany, New York. She took the surname Gillibrand when she married the British venture capitalist Jonathan Gillibrand in 2001. Both of her parents were lawyers, and her maternal grandmother, Dorothea “Polly” Noonan, served as an adviser to longtime Albany mayor Erastus Corning II. For information about Gillibrand’s father and his former involvement with a highly controversial organization in upstate New York, see Footnote #1 below.
After earning an A.B. at Dartmouth College (1988) and a J.D. at the UCLA School of Law (1991), Gillibrand practiced law privately in Manhattan for a brief period. In 1992 she took leave from private practice to serve as a law clerk to U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Roger Miner. And in the late ’90s, Gillibrand was Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton‘s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Andrew Cuomo.
In 1999-2000, Gillibrand worked on Hillary Clinton‘s 2000 U.S. Senate campaign. From 2001-05 she was a partner at the Manhattan law office of Boies, Schiller & Flexner. And in 2006 she was elected, as a Democrat, to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Two months after being re-elected to Congress in November 2008, Gillibrand resigned from the House when New York Governor David Paterson appointed her to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, who had accepted the position of Secretary of State in Barack Obama’s newly formed cabinet. Gillibrand subsequenty won a special election in 2010, and then a regular election in 2012.
In 2009 Gillibrand was one of just seven senators who voted against a proposal to defund the notoriously corrupt community organization ACORN. A spokesman for Gillibrand explained that the senator “believes that eliminating funding for the important programs that ACORN provides would be harmful to the thousands of hard-working New Yorkers who need extra assistance in the middle of this economic crisis.”
In a November 2013 appearance on ABC‘s This Week—at a time when millions of Americans were losing individual health-insurance plans that were not authorized under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)—Gillibrand, who had voted in favor of the Act, was asked whether the President had misled Congressional Democrats into falsely believing that people would be able to keep their plans if they wished. “He should’ve just been specific [when speaking publicly about it],” she replied. “No, we all knew.”
Gillibrand has a close political relationship with the Working Families Party, which has consistently endorsed her campaigns over the years, and on whose ballot line she ran in both 2006 and 2008. “I am honored to have the support of the Working Families Party,” said Gillibrand in 2010. “I look forward to working closely with these progressive champions to fight for our communities, and New Yorkers across the state.” In a November 2014 press release, she urged New Yorkers “to support the Working Families Party’s efforts to win a Democratic majority in the New York State Senate, so we can pass a full progressive agenda for New York.”
In July 2014 Gillibrand announced her support for the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, an agreement which virtually guaranteed that Tehran would be able to develop nuclear weapons within a decade or so. For details about the accord’s provisions, click here.
In September 2014 Gillibrand condemned Senate Republicans who opposed the expansion of paid-family-leave benefits to all workers nationwide. “In every other industrialized, wealthy country in the world they have paid leave,” the senator said. “Europe has up to six months. Even Afghanistan and Pakistan have paid leave, but we do not have paid leave in this country, and because of that when forced to meet a family need, an urgent care need, often times women are forced to leave the workplace because they cannot take that time off unpaid.”
One of Gillibrand’s high-priority issues is the sexual abuse of young women on college campuses. In January 2015, the senator invited Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz—who had made headlines by dragging a mattress around her campus to protest the school administrators’ allegedly unsatisfactory handling of her sexual-assault claims against a male student—to attend President Obama’s State of the Union address as her guest. The girl’s allegations were ultimately judged to be false.
In a Time op-ed piece in May 2015, Gillibrand wrote that women in college had “a one-in-five chance of being sexually assaulted.” To address this purported rape epidemic, she co-sponsored legislation known as the Campus Accountability & Safety Act. But according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the actual incidence of sexual assault on campus was just 6.1 per 1,000—lower, even, than the incidence of off-campus rapes. National Review reports that when Gillibrand was made aware of this, “she quietly deleted references to the false statistics on her website, yet pressed on with her legislation anyway.”
Though Gillibrand opposed amnesty for illegal immigrants during her time in the House of Representatives, she reversed her position when she joined the Senate. Emphasizing “the important role all immigrants play in our economic prosperity,” she now favors comprehensive immigration reform that offers “a real path to earned citizenship” and “an immediate end to illegal, warrantless home raids.” Lamenting, further, that “current law is unfairly punishing thousands of young people who have spent most of their lives in America,” Gillibrand has co-sponsored DREAM Act legislation designed, as she puts it, “to provide every child the opportunity to get a good education and earn their way to legal status.” She has also voted repeatedly against bills calling for the completion of a fence to prevent illegal immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border.
In 2014 Gillibrand co-sponsored the Minimum Wage Fairness Act, which called for a 39% increase in the minimum wage to be phased in over a two-year period, and the Paycheck Fairness Act, which barred employers from paying women less than their equally qualified male co-workers. The latter bill is founded on the demonstrably false premise that gender-based wage discrimination pervades the American workplace.
In the summer of 2015, Gillibrand supported the nuclear deal that the Obama administration negotiated with Iran—an agreement allowing the terrorist regime in Tehran to inspect its own Parchin nuclear weapons research site, conduct uranium enrichment, build advanced centrifuges, buy ballistic missiles, fund terrorism, and have a near-zero breakout time to a nuclear bomb. For additional details about the accord, click here.
Gillibrand had previously received financial support from the Iran Lobby, i.e., the Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC), during her first run for senator. She also had picked up money from Hassan Nemazee, a former IAPAC trustee who had served as the national campaign finance director for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid before he pled guilty to a fraud scheme encompassing hundreds of millions of dollars.
In an April 2017 interview with New York magazine, Gillibrand said that her perspective regarding politics resembled that of fellow Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine): “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 f–k home.” In June 2017, Gillibrand repeated her profanity during a speech to hundreds of activist supporters at the annual Personal Democracy Forum at New York University: “Has [President Donald Trump] kept any of these promises? No. Fuck no.” Later in the event, Gillibrand said that if Democrats are not helping people, “we should go the f–k home.”
In January 2018, Gillibrand condemned President Trump’s reference to “chain migration,” a term for the policy whereby, as NumbersUSA describes it, massive numbers of foreign nationals “are allowed to immigrate to the United States because citizens and lawful permanent residents are allowed to sponsor their non-nuclear family members.” Said Gillibrand: “I think a lot of President Trump’s Rhetoric is racist. When someone uses the phrase ‘chain migration,’ it is intentional in trying to demonize, literally trying to demonize families and make it a racist slur. It is not right. We have to change the debate. These are people. These are families.”
In June 2018, Gillibrand joined a number of prominent fellow Democrats in calling for the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, which enforces federal immigration laws. Said Gillibrand: “I believe that ICE has become a deportation force … and that’s why I believe you should get rid of it, start over, reimagine it and build something that actually works.” This was a far cry from the position Gillibrand had taken nine years earlier when she first joined the U.S. Senate. As the New York Times reported in January 2009:
“During her one term in the House of Representatives,… Gillibrand was on safe political ground adopting a tough stance against illegal immigration. [She] opposed any sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants, supported deputizing local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration laws, spoke out against Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposal to allow illegal immigrants to have driver’s licenses, and sought to make English the official language of the United States….
“Ms. Gillibrand has not backed down from her long-standing opposition to ‘amnesty’ for illegal immigrants, which has left some immigrant advocates wondering whether she would support any law that would establish a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. In Washington on Tuesday, the new senator elaborated, saying, ‘I don’t support amnesty because I don’t think it will work.’ … In the House, where she served from 2007 until this week, Ms. Gillibrand frequently voted more conservatively on immigration issues than a majority of her Democratic colleagues. In votes that pitted her against a vast majority of her fellow Democrats, she sided in favor of bills that required adult occupants of affordable housing to provide proof of residency and that penalized cities that protected undocumented immigrants, such as New York. She also diverged from the overwhelming majority of Democratic representatives by voting in favor of bills that increased financing for law enforcement against illegal immigrants and that protected businesses requiring their employees to speak English on the job. She is a co-sponsor of the SAVE Act, widely disparaged by immigrant advocates, which aims to crack down on illegal immigration with more border guards and surveillance technology, accelerated deportations and a mandatory program requiring employers to verify the immigration status of employees. Americans for Better Immigration, a lobbying group that pushes for tighter immigration enforcement and a reduction in immigration, has given her a grade of B, placing her among the group’s 22 top-rated Democratic House members.”
During an October 25, 2018 debate with Republican challenger Chele Farley, Senator Gillibrand, who was up for re-election that November, pledged that if she were to win her race: “I will serve my six-year term” in the Senate. But on November 12 – just six days after she had won re-election – Gillibrand replied to newswoman Marcia Kramer’s inquiry about the senator’s possible presidential ambitions in 2020 by saying: “I’m thinking about it. I’m going to give it some long, hard consideration. For me, it’s really a moral question because I think what President Trump has been doing, putting so much division into the country, I’ve really been called to fight as hard as I can against the fraying of the social fabric.”
On January 15, 2019, Gillibrand announced her presidential campaign during an appearance on an episode of Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show.”
While campaigning in Iowa on February 18, 2019, Gillibrand was interviewed by Christine Nobliss, a Native American who works with Seeding Sovereignty, an organization that aims to “decolonize the American colonial-capitalist political and economic systems.” When Nobliss lamented that “a lot of these people [crossing illegally from Mexico into the U.S.] are indigenous to this land, and that border is cutting them off,” Gillibrand replied: “I know. That’s why the wall is so absurd and hurtful…. It’s inhumane. We need to have proper asylum. This president doesn’t believe in asylum. He’s afraid of immigrants. He’s afraid of refugees. We need to be accepting more refugees, and we need to have a holistic, humane process to take on these asylum claims.”
At a February 2019 campaign event in New Hampshire, Gillibrand told a room of LGBTQ activists that she would support the creation of a third gender designation of “X” at the federal level for those not identifying as a man or woman. Earlier that month, Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee, had said: “President Trump’s ban on transgender service members is discrimination, it undermines our military readiness, and it is an insult to the brave and patriotic transgender Americans who choose to serve in our military. We should end this discriminatory ban for good and ensure our transgender service members can continue to do their jobs, serve with dignity, and protect our country.”
On April 14, 2021, Gillibrand, in an effort to support the $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill that Democrats were trying to pass, stretched the meaning of the word “infrastructure” far beyond the bounds of its traditional definition. “Paid leave is infrastructure. Child care is infrastructure. Caregiving is infrastructure,” the congresswoman tweeted. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines infrastructure as “the system of public works of a country, state, or region,” “the resources (such as personnel, buildings, or equipment) required for an activity,” “the underlying foundation or basic framework (as of a system or organization),” or “the permanent installations required for military purposes.” Politically, the term is generally used in reference to transportation, roads, bridges, tunnels, and items of that nature.
For an overview of Gillibrand’s voting record on an array of key issues during her career as a legislator, click here.
For additional information on Gillibrand, click here.