Democratic U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand held a town hall in her home county Sunday evening, speaking to hundreds of constituents at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. Gillibrand, a Rensselaer County resident, is running for a second full term in November and her message carried a call to action.
Senator Gillibrand walked among the crowd inside a field house at Hudson Valley Community College, fielding questions from constituents drawn at random.
The first to speak to New York’s junior Senator said she was afraid.
“The way things have evolved with President Trump…has just changed the whole atmosphere in this country.”
Gillibrand responded by saying Republican President Donald Trump has undermined American institutions, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion.
“People are anxious. No matter where I’ve traveled in the state, people are so anxious about the future,” said Gillibrand. “And so what we have to do is speak out. The antidote to Trump is all of you.”
That response set the tone for the remainder of the evening. The Democrat took aim at the Trump administration and Republican leadership, and decisions that could have lasting effects on the country.
Gillibrand called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to hold confirmation hearings for President Obama’s final nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, "beyond a sin."
Referencing the recent guilty pleas from the president’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and the ongoing investigation into the Trump team’s potential dealings with Russia headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Gillibrand said she would refuse to support Trump’s second nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh.
“Even before you get to his stated positions, his speeches, his writings, his decisions, is the point that he doesn’t believe that a president can be investigated and he believes that a president is above the law,” said Gillibrand. “Given the fact that President Trump’s former lawyer has implicated him in a federal crime, we should have no hearings on Judge Kavanaugh until the Mueller Investigation is completed.”
Republicans are hoping to begin the hearings Sept. 4.
Speaking to a man who said he felt himself torn between politicians on the increasingly prominent far-left and mainstream factions of the Democratic Party, Gillibrand said she rejects labels and believes the best candidates “speak from the heart.” While acknowledging her perception as a more liberal Senator, she also touted her own work to find common ground across party lines.
“The sexual harassment bill I have in Congress is with Ted Cruz! So is that something sexual harassment bill conservative or liberal or progressive? I don’t know. It’s just a common sense idea about how to end sexual harassment in Congress,” said Gillibrand. “So I wouldn’t label things and I wouldn’t create some litmus test for candidates about ‘you’re too progressive or too conservative’ – people will vote for you because they believe in you.”
Over the course of the hour, Gillibrand outlined her positions on a number of national issues. She supports comprehensive immigration reform. She seeks an end to the Electoral College voting system in favor of a popular vote. She seeks a stronger rebuilding effort for storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.
Speaking to one issue at home, the Senator addressed the PFOA contamination issue surrounding Hoosick Falls and other communities. Recently, Gillibrand called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to hold a listening session to gather more input from New Yorkers impacted by contaminated water.
“I will continue to elevate the issue so that people understand, really, what’s at stake. I will urge our state to have medical monitoring and if there’s ever any deal with Saint-Gobain or any other polluter, that is has to include medical monitoring for all people who live in that region,” said Gillibrand.
But of all the issues addressed, Gillibrand’s most common refrain of the night was “flipping” leadership in Washington, with the midterm elections nearing.
“Our democracy only works when regular people stand up and demand it. It is a fact. Nothing ever works until people are willing to fight for what they believe in,” said Gillibrand. “And the way you win these districts across New York, particularly the ones that are necessary to flip the House of Representatives, it’s done by real people: knocking on doors, making phone calls, putting out lawn signs, making sure their voices are heard.”
Gillibrand’s town hall comes just over two months away from Election Day, where she will face Republican challenger Chele Farley.