A supportive crowd of about 200 Long Island residents peppered Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s remarks with applause several times as the lawmaker fielded questions ranging from reproductive rights to immigration, sexual assault to the opioid crisis at a town hall-style meeting at Hofstra University on Friday night.
It did not take long, though, for the simple format — a short introduction followed by questions — to zero in on the news of the day: The impending vote Saturday in the Senate on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) opposes.
What about reproductive rights? asked the first questioner at Gillibrand's ninth town hall event this year.
“This is one of the reasons why I fought so hard against Judge Kavanaugh,” Gillibrand said, as the crowd erupted.
Gillibrand was fresh back from a whirlwind week in Washington, where senators on Friday voted 51 to 49 to halt debate on the nomination of Kavanaugh, on whose fate the U.S. Senate could vote as soon as Saturday.
“He has said he can’t see anywhere in the Constitution where Roe v. Wade is protected . . . I think that it became very clear in these hearings of Judge Kavanaugh that he does not value women. He does not listen to women or respect women,” said Gillibrand, who is up for election in November.
Sybil Mimy Johnson, chief executive officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Bellport, asked Gillibrand for insights into congressional efforts to stem the nation’s opioid epidemic, citing a recent case where a teenager was shooting up in the club’s parking lot.
Even more alarming, Johnson said, are teenagers having “Narcan parties,” where they take drugs to the point of overdose and apply the effective overdose antidote to revive themselves.
“What can you show that there is really something tangible being done?” Johnson asked.
Gillibrand said she advocates a two-pronged approach of “prevention and response” consisting of limiting access by slicing the amounts of opioids that can be distributed at a time to a seven-day supply, and by demanding help in prevention from pharmaceutical firms.
On the other hand, she said, people need greater access to mental health care to address root causes of drug use and addiction.
“Maybe we just need far more intervention at a younger level,” she said, calling the crisis an “all-hands-on-deck problem.”
Gillibrand spoke in the same week that the Senate joined the House of Representatives in passing the Opioid Crisis Response Act, a sweeping piece of legislation that lawmakers hope will address the prescription drug epidemic that has devastated large and small communities nationwide.
It awaits President Donald Trump’s signature. The bipartisan legislation arrives amid the rancor across the aisle over a number of issues that have divided the nation, including Kavanaugh’s nomination and the midterm elections, in which Democrats hope to claim several more seats in both houses of Congress and Republicans hope to retain their majorities.
Gillibrand has advocated for the bill, which will pump billions of dollars into the agencies tasked with addressing the public health and criminal justice aspects of the problem that the federal Centers for Disease Control estimates killed 72,000 people in the country last year.
Other questions focused on the state of politics. Why did Trump win? Why aren’t Democrats fighting hard enough? What is being done about "extreme immigration?"
Gillibrand defended her party’s record, saying, for example, she has been encouraged by the wave of women who have come to run for office in the wake of the #metoo movement and the election of Trump, whose ascension drew hundreds of thousands of women in protest a day after his inauguration in January 2017.
She ended the event on a high note, asking people to maintain hope in the country and to get involved.
“It’s put women on fire,” she said, returning to the Kavanaugh nomination. “They are so angry that their voices are not being listened to . . . I am more hopeful now than I have been in my entire 20 years in politics, more hopeful now for truth and justice because people are willing to fight for it.”