Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand appeared Sunday on three morning talk shows where she cast herself as a viable opponent to President Donald Trump and expressed regret for her conservative positions while representing an upstate New York district as a House member.
“I think if I travel around this country and listen to folks about what they care about, and then fight for them as hard as I would fight for my own kids, as hard as I fight for my own community, I think I can win back voters anywhere," Gillibrand, a Democrat representing New York, told host Jake Tapper on CNN's "State of the Union."
Gillibrand, 52, announced her candidacy Tuesday and spent the weekend campaigning in Iowa, traditionally the first state to hold a presidential caucus. In Iowa on Sunday, Gillibrand said she would fight to make health care a right, not a privilege, and advocate for public schools.
Tapper and the other talk show hosts peppered Gillibrand with questions about her evolution from a House member representing a conservative district who opposed amnesty for undocumented immigrants and supported making English the official national language, to a senator who now advocates for much more progressive positions.
"I am who I am, and I will fight for other people's kids as hard as I fight for my own. My heart has never changed," Gillibrand said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Gillibrand recalled visiting immigrant communities across the state in 2009 after her appointment as U.S. senator.
"I recognized that my focus on the concerns of my upstate district were not enough, I needed to focus on the concerns of the whole state," she said on CBS. "I met with families who were being torn apart because of policies that I did not have enough compassion and empathy for. So I recognized I was wrong."
Gillibrand told Tapper that her past positions, “certainly weren’t empathetic and they were not kind. And I did not think about suffering in other people’s lives."
“I listened, and I realized that things I had said were wrong. I was not caring about others, I was not fighting for other people’s kids the same way I was fighting for my own, and I was wrong to feel that way."
Gillibrand also told Tapper: “This president has sown fear and division that just makes us weaker, and so I think what he’s done is so horrible and mean-spirited, that I am nothing like him and never will be, because my values haven’t changed.”
On ABC's "This Week," host Martha Raddatz asked Gillibrand "how do those voters believe you? Maybe you’ll change your mind about something if you became president?"
Gillibrand answered that she would tell voters to "look at my heart, see who I am. I believe I have the courage, and the compassion and the fearless determination to do what’s right even when it’s hard, especially when it’s hard."
Tapper asked Gillibrand about her call in 2017 for then-Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, to resign amid reports of sexual misconduct. Her leadership on the issue reportedly had angered some Democratic party donors.
Gillibrand mentioned the conversations she had at the time with her 15-year-son, Theo.
"He didn’t understand why I was so tough on Al Franken," Gillibrand said. "And it was very clear to me that I needed to be clear with him, that groping a woman or forcibly kissing a woman without her consent is not OK. It’s not OK for a U.S. senator, and it’s not OK for my son."
It was Franken's choice to resign, she said.
"If some very wealthy donors in our party are angry about that, that’s on them," Gillibrand said.
Tapper asked Gillibrand, who won re-election to the Senate last year, about her statement during an October WABC-TV debate with Republican challenger Chele Farley where she promised to serve her full six-year Senate term.
Gillibrand told Tapper her focus at the time was blocking Republicans from widening their majority in the U.S. Senate and electing a Democratic House to serve as a check on the president.
"After we were able to flip the House of Representatives, I took a long hard thought with my family about whether this is something we should consider," she said. "It’s an issue that I had to talk to my boys about, the sacrifices they will make, and I needed time to make that decision."