WASHINGTON — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand says she interprets President Donald Trump’s tweet aimed at her as “a sexual smear intended to silence me.”
Trump had tweeted on Tuesday that Gillibrand had once gone to his New York business office “begging” for a political contribution and — in Trump’s words — “would do anything” to get it.
Trump’s press secretary has said people who viewed the tweet as a sexual slur must have had their minds “in the gutter.”
Gillibrand was asked on NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday whether she’d misread the meaning of Trump’s tweet. Her answer: “No.”
The New York Democrat added: “Well, certainly that’s how I and many people read it.”
Gillibrand is up for re-election next year and is considered a possible presidential contender in 2020. She’s 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.
Democrats on Tuesday had accused the president of making unsavory insinuations and attempting to “slut-shame” Gillibrand for her calls on Trump to resign.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later told reporters that the president was referring to Gillibrand being a puppet to Democratic leaders and special interests, insisting there was no sexual innuendo in the tweet:
“I think only if your mind is in the gutter would you have read it that way,” Sanders said. “She’s a wholly owned subsidiary for people who contribute to her campaign.”
Gillibrand, D-N.Y. had called for Trump’s resignation a day earlier because of allegations of sexual misconduct. And barring that, she said, “Congress should investigate the multiple sexual harassment and assault allegations against him.”
“I will not be silenced on this issue,” Gillibrand insisted. “Neither will the women who stood up to the president yesterday,” referring to women who have accused the president of sexual misconduct.
Standing up for Gillibrand, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., tweeted to the president: “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.”
The phrase “she persisted” went viral earlier this year after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell silenced Warren as she tried to read a letter from Coretta Scott King about then-attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions.
Trump’s tweet Tuesday did not directly address sexual harassment, but said of Gillibrand: “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!”
Trump’s tweet Tuesday morning inflamed Democrats who said the president was again debasing a woman. Trump did not respond to similar resignation calls from three male Democratic senators, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Jeff Merkley of Oregon.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., told CNN “That was an ugly and suggestive tweet, and we all know what he was trying to say there, and it is beneath the office of the presidency.”
Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., said Trump had “proven to be a poison for the presidency, a cancer on the country, and a truly disgraceful human being.”
Patti Solis Doyle, a onetime Hillary Clinton campaign official, wrote that Trump’s tweet made a “vile, disgusting implication” about Gillibrand.
Solis Doyle tweeted: “‘And would do anything for them’. What does that mean, @realDonaldTrump?! You, a man, accused by more than a dozen credible women of assault and harassment, has the audacity make this vile, disgusting implication. SHAME!”
"And would do anything for them". What does that mean, @realDonaldTrump?! You, a man, accused by more than a dozen credible women of assault and harassment, has the audacity make this vile, disgusting implication. SHAME! https://t.co/Cx2a1X2AWA— Patti Solis Doyle (@PattiSolisDoyle) December 12, 2017
Likewise, Brian Fallon, Clinton’s former campaign spokesman, tweeted: “This is a disgusting tweet. Also, it will make the Gillibrand folks ecstatic.” Fallon appeared to be referring to the fact sexual harassment is an issue that Gillibrand has taken on politically.
More than a dozen women came forward during last year’s campaign, many in the wake of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump is heard bragging about committing sexual assault, to say that the celebrity businessman had harassed them.
With each day seeming to bring new headlines that force men from positions of power, four of Trump’s accusers re-upped their claims Monday, believing the national movement on sexual harassment should force change at the White House too.
Trump has denied the claims. In a heated exchange with reporters in the White House briefing room on Monday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders steadfastly dismissed accusations against the Republican president and suggested the issue had already been litigated in Trump’s favor on Election Day.
Trump donated $4,800 to Gillibrand’s Senate campaign in 2010, according to federal campaign finance records. Before launching his presidential campaign, Trump frequently bestowed donations on politicians of both parties.
To his accusers, the rising #MeToo movement is an occasion to ensure he is at last held accountable.
“It was heartbreaking last year. We’re private citizens and for us to put ourselves out there to try and show America who this man is and how he views women, and for them to say, ‘Eh, we don’t care,’ it hurt,” Samantha Holvey said Monday. The former beauty queen claimed that Trump ogled her and other Miss USA pageant contestants in their dressing room in 2006.
“Let’s try round two,” she said. “The environment’s different. Let’s try again.”
Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writer Richard Lardner contributed to this report.