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Town Hall with Presidential Candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Aired 10-11p ET

Aired April 9, 2019 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[22:00:00]

ERIN BURNETT, HOST OF ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT: Good evening and welcome to CNN Democratic Presidential Town Hall. We are going to be with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. I'm Erin Burnett. Senator Gillibrand has served in the Senate for a decade and she rose to national prominence as an advocate for women and an outspoken proponent of the metoo movement. If elected she would make history as the first female president of the United States. In our audience tonight we have Democrats and Independents who say they plan to participate in the Democratic primaries and caucuses. So now, please welcome Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

(APPLAUSE)

BURNETT: How are you? Welcome.

SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: Thank you.

BURNETT: Thank you.

GILLIBRAND: Hey everybody. How are you?

BURNETT: Please sit down. So I have to start off with something I saw today, it was a video and it had gone viral involving you. And you were speaking Mandarin to a reporter. Just to let everyone know, that video has already gotten more than 1 million views.

GILLIBRAND: Yeah?

BURNETT: So --

GILLIBRAND: That and my weight lifting video. That's about it.

BURNETT: All right. So --so those who did not see that particular video, could you tell me a little bit or tell all of us a little bit about yourself in Chinese.

GILLIBRAND: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE). And all I said was hi, how are you? My Chinese name is (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

BURNETT: You know what's interesting, I had someone translating in my ear.

GILLIBRAND: Yes.

BURNETT: And she's a native Chinese speaker and she says your accent is really good. She said so.

GILLIBRAND: Studious (ph). Studious. (ph) But I had -- I had a great experience traveling throughout China and learning how to speak Chinese in college. I took a trip and during one of my summers to Beijing and lived in a dorm in Beijing and Connie Britton was my roommate and we both struggled enormously just to -- just to get through because it was really hard. You were in a very different country with very few rights, very few rights for women, very few rights for people in general. And we bought bikes and we biked all around Beijing and we explored every weekend, we went all across China and then I spent my second semester in Taiwan.

BURNETT: So dive in and figure it out and I know keeping up with the language, any language is really hard. Never mind something like Chinese which is so different than ours. All right, I want to get straight to it and get to our first question. So this week President Trump of course got rid of his Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen --

GILLIBRAND: -- Nielsen.

BURNETT: --Kirstjen Nielsen. Been purging the Department of Homeland Security as a fair word to use and the firings from is he says there's a national security -- emergency on the border. And I want to start there with the first question who comes from a Parker Butler (ph) from Texas, Freshman at American University who's volunteered for political campaigns in the past. I know Parker including Federal Works Senate campaigns. So go ahead with your question Parker.

PARKER BUTLER (PH): Hi, Senator.

GILLIBRAND: Hi.

BUTLER (PH): So immigration was arguably -- arguably the defining issue of the 2016 election. It could very well be the same in 2020. You have previously been a hardliner on immigration. You have supported making -- declaring English as the official language of the United States as well as cracking down on sanctuary cities. When you're running against a xenophobic demagogue like Donald Trump, how can you stand firm with the shaky record that you have on immigration?

GILLIBRAND: I have a very strong record on immigration and for my 10 years in the Senate, I've been fighting very hard for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. I think immigration is one of the greatest strengths in America. Our diversity has always been our strength and our immigrant history is very much part of who we are as Americans. The Statue of Liberty stands in New York Harbor for a reason, as a beacon of light and hope asking for your tired and your poor. Your huddled masses, yearning to be free and we've never or at least in our best moments have not been afraid of immigrants.

I think what President Trump is doing is outrageous. I think when he divides children and their parents at the border, it's not only inhumane but it's contrary to who we are as a country. As president of the United States I would not only work to pass comprehensive immigration reform but I would change entirely what we do at the border. I would make sure that people seeking asylum in this country would have access to real immigration judges and lawyers. I would make sure that the process was humane and I would take all of that work, the enforcement removal operations and I'd put it out of Homeland Security and put into the Department of Justice. We can keep our borders safe and we can invest in border security but we do not need to treat -- treat people in the way President Trump has.

[22:05:00]

BURNETT: So I think part of what Parker's (ph) talking about obviously is the -- the dramatic change in your position on this issue over time. Right? From English obviously as a -- as a language -- official language of the country, not supporting things like benefits for illegal immigrants. That's part of your record as well. What made you change?

GILLIBRAND: Well when I was a -- a member of Congress from upstate New York, I was really focused on the priorities of my district. When I became Senator of the entire state, I recognized that some of my views really did need to change. They were not thoughtful enough and didn't care enough about people outside of the original upstate New York district that I represented and so I learned. And I -- I think for people who aspire to be president, I think it's really important that you're able to admit when your wrong and that you're able to grow and learn and listen and be better and be stronger. That is something that Donald Trump is unwilling to do. He is unwilling to listen. He is unwilling to admit when he's wrong. He's actually incapable of it. And I think it's one of the reasons why he is such a cowardly president.

BURNETT: So, you know, your background obviously, you had quite a bit of experience in a lot of really diverse places. Right? You spent along time working --

GILLIBRAND: Yes.

BURNETT: -- at a law firm in New York City. You went to law school in Los Angeles. You worked for a Democratic administration. So you were very familiar with immigrant -- immigrant issues and places with a lot of diversity.

GILLIBRAND: Well I'm always for comprehensive immigration reform but I didn't lead on the issue. And so when I became a Senator 10 years ago, I decided this was something I need to lead on. It's something that's really important to my state. My state is so diverse. It's one of the most diverse in the entire country and so what I've been able to do as Senator is bring my whole state together. Not only could I represent the two to one Republican district that I represented, I not only won it twice the second time with a 24 point margin. But then I turned and represented the whole state and over three elections earned the highest vote total in the history of the state at 72 percent. Because I'm able by listening, by empathizing, by understanding to represent the entire state.

My vote threshold at 72 percent is higher than any person who's ever ran statewide including presidential campaigns. So I'm able to bring the red places, the blue places and the purple places in my state together which is one of the reasons I'm running for president. I believe I could bring this country together. I believe that this country is so divided because we have a president who spews hate and division and racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia in such a way that he is literally tearing apart the moral fabric of this country. He's tearing apart our soul as a nation and so you need someone who's going to be brave enough to bring this country together. Brave enough to take on all the challenges that make it so impossible, that divide us. And have this humility to admit when you're wrong.

The humility to understand that this country needs a leader who's not afraid of progress, who's not afraid of taking this country in the direction it needs to go and someone who's not afraid of the fundamental truth that we are a better country when we care about one another. When we believe in the Golden Rule where we treat others the way we want to be treated. And because I did not do that as a House member I was ashamed and so now as a Senator for 10 years, I know I'm in the right place. I know I'm going to defend this country. I know I'm going to fight -- those immigrant families as hard as I would fight for my own because I have. I've done it for the last 10 years as a Senator.

BURNETT: All right. So let me --

(APPLAUSE)

BURNETT: The next question is also related to immigration and Luis Gonzalez (ph) is a student at Montgomery College, a college I know. Immigration activist, she's also a DACA recipient. I know when you came to this country I know you were very young. You came in through at no decision of your own when you were child. Luis (ph).

LUIS GONZALEZ (PH): I'm one of thousands of immigrant youth in this country that are protected under DACA status. Senator Gillibrand, I was four years old when I moved to the United States. I'm now a college student at Montgomery College. I can't imagine being deported to a country that I barely know but our current immigration system provides no pathway to citizenship for me and my family. What would you say to Trump and his supporters to see families like mine deported?

GILLIBRAND: First of all, I -- I think what President Trump is doing is not only inhumane but lacks vision and lacks leadership. This is a country that was largely built by immigrants. Immigration and diversity has always been a strength. I would protect the DREAMers. I would make sure that DREAMers that came to this country would have a pathway to citizenship so they can finish their schooling. So they -- they're serving in the military, they can continue to serve. So they can start families and start businesses. So for me I think it's really important that we recognize that immigration is a strength and I would lead in that way. I would make sure we pass comprehensive immigration reform in this country.

BURNETT: All right. The next question comes from Sidney Pereski (ph) a senior at the University of Maryland. I know you're president of the school's college Democrats. So go ahead Sydney.

SYDNEY PORETSKY, STUDENT, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: Good evening, Senator.

[22:10:00]

I'm a proud fellow alumna of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's alma mater, the Holton-Arms School. Thank you for believing Dr. Ford and leading an incredible fight. Despite existing resources available on college campuses for survivors of sexual assault, many individuals remain silent out of fear of not being believed.

How will you fight to change the stigma often surrounding accounts of sexual assault and how will you fight for survivors?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes. So, I've been fighting -- thank you for that, and thank you for bringing up an issue that so many survivors struggle to talk about every day, and being brave yourself to speak up for them.

I believe deeply that we have to end sexual violence in this country, because, fundamentally, it goes to a very simple question, do we value women? And, unfortunately, there is a lot of evidence that we don't. We don't take sexual assault seriously on college campuses. We don't take it seriously in the military. We don't even take it seriously in places like Congress.

So, we have to address sexual harassment and sexual assault head on. I have sponsored legislation and led on a debate of how we change -- how deal with sexual assault on college campuses. A couple of easy reforms, have a nationwide survey so that anyone who has suffered sexual violence can speak out and tell their story.

Make sure we work with law enforcement so that if a survivor does want to go to law enforcement, they're taken seriously. Make sure we have better training and make sure we have someone on campus who can take you through your options, having that on-campus counselor to give you all the information and facts you need.

Those four things alone would transform how we treat sexual assault survivors in our colleges. I would try to pass that bill right away. We already have a bipartisan support of it. It's the kind of thing we can come together and get done.

BURNETT: Dan Turner, I want you to have a change to ask your question. I know you're the founder and president of a technology company here in Washington. Go ahead with your question.

DAN TURNER, TECHNOLOGY FIRM FOUNDER AND FOUNDER: Thank you. Hi, Senator.

GILLIBRAND: Hi.

TURNER: Seven years ago, my preemie twins spent five months in the NICU. I had to take six months off to take care of my other two kids. If I hadn't had the amazingly good fortune to have the resources of having my own company, we would have been completely screwed.

I help employees deal with this in their own lives. Insurance should cover this but doesn't. The private insurance market provides nothing. The Family Act seems like it will fix this gap, but it was introduced in 2013 and there's not even been a vote.

How will you get that passed?

GILLIBRAND: So I think national paid leave is such an urgent issue and I'm very grateful you shared your personal story. Your personal story is actually how we're going to pass the bill. Families all across America have suffered like you where, thank goodness, you had some form of leave. Most Americans, you know, less than 20 percent of Americans, have access to paid leave at this point.

And I can't tell you how many stories I've heard where you have a sick or dying family member or spouse or parent, a new child, a child with a terrible physical ailment that needs you by their side in the NICU or in the hospital.

And at every instance, we are literally asking these families to choose between caring for their loved ones or putting food on the table, caring for their loved ones or not getting fired. And it's horrible because the truth is that this is going to happen to every person who works.

So, our bill, paid family leave, is just about that. It's allowing everyone to buy into a learned benefit and it's not expensive. It's about the cost of a cup of coffee a week. But it's about our families.

And if we want our workers to be thriving, they need to be able to be the caregiver they are when they need to be and be able to keep their job and be able to have that income. That's why national paid leave makes sense, and I will make it a priority as president of the United States.

(APPLAUSE)]

BURNETT: Alexis Kane is a senior at American University and you're studying political science. Go ahead with your question.

ALEXIS KANE, STUDENT, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Thank you, Senator, for being here this evening. My question to you is you recently held a rally outside of Trump Tower in New York City. What inspired you to host a rally at that venue?

GILLIBRAND: So I decided to announce my campaign for presidency in the shadow of Trump International because it is a tower that represents to me greed, it represents a narcissism and a sense of entitlement that is so significant, you just have to speak truth to that power -- because this president is one of the most cowardly, demeaning presidents we've ever had.

He is somebody who demonizes women, people of color. He has said racist statements. He's said anti-Semitic statements. He is against freedom of religion with his Muslim ban. [22:15:00]

He has divided us on every type of line you could possibly imagine and I wanted to talk about what it actually means to stand up for what's right, to do what's right especially when it's hard. To be able to stand up against corporate greed and stand up to the unbelievable powers that change everything in Washington. If you're unwilling to stand up to the special interests, you're never going to change anything.

So, one of the reasons why I wanted to have my speech there is I wanted to talk about what's in the way of everything we believe in. We believe in health care as a right and not a privilege. We want Medicare-for-All for that reason.

We believe our public school should be better and stronger and that we should be able to have debt-free college. We believe that no matter how hard you work, you should be able to work your way into the middle class and the American dream is actually for everyone.

But the truth is you can't get to any of those things because our democracy has been corrupted. Our democracy has been taken out of the hands of the people and given to the hands of the special interests. The people who control everything in Washington are the moneyed interests, the special interests, and those who have power.

And so, if you're not willing to get money out of politics and have politically funded elections, you're not going to get there. If you're not willing to take on the drug companies, you're not going to be able to get rid of the opioid crisis or be able to afford prescription drugs. If you're not willing to take on the insurance companies, you're not getting health care as a right.

So, I wanted to talk about this president isn't, and that's brave. I wanted to talk about what it's like to have a president who's brave enough to stand up for what's right even when it's hard, especially when it's hard.

This is a president who doesn't. He punches down. He demeans the vulnerable. He is not brave.

He wants us to believe he's strong. That's why he puts his name on every building. He wants us to believe that he's powerful when he's not.

He's weak and he's a coward, and that's why I wanted to have that speech there.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

BURENTT: All right. We'll be right back with more from CNN's Democratic Presidential Town Hall with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Stay right there. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

BURNETT: Welcome back to the CNN presidential town hall with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

All right. I just want to have a little bit of time to talk to you about some personal things --

GILLIBRAND: Sure.

BURNETT: -- as we get ready of more of the audience questions.

You know, you've spoken a lot over the years about your children, and you've made that a part of -- you know, you've talked about how important that is and making you who you are and embrace some of the issues about which you're so passionate.

Theo and Henry are your two sons. And they're still young, although those teen years which I know are -- you know, require so much of their parents.

What do they think of your run?

GILLIBRAND: Well, they're both very disgusted with our president, so I won't even tell you the nicknames they have. That would be inappropriate. But, you know, for me when I finally decided to run, it was really about making sure my children felt prepared, because this is a decision that was all of us.

[22:20:00]

You know, not only are they sacrificing their own privacy but they're sacrificing the time with me. Henry's only 10 and Theo's 15 and so when we sat down as a family over the holidays to say, does this make sense? And are you willing to sacrifice this time you'd normally have? And they said, yes mom this is really important. And for Jonathan and I we just decided that I feel so called to do this and -- and we all feel called and we all feel like we have to do everything we can possibly do to defeat what President Trump has created, this -- this -- this darkness and this hatred and this division.

BURNETT: Did they give you advice?

GILLIBRAND: Yes. Henry said before I left, don't make any mistakes mom and don't say the wrong words. I was like, fine, I won't say the wrong words.

BURNETT: (inaudible)

GILLIBRAND: So, you know, they both boys have been exceedingly encouraging and they believe in this mission. This isn't, you know, it's not about us. None of this is about me or my family or us at all. It's -- it's literally about the American people. If -- if we're going to defeat Trump as a people, as a country, you're going to have to decide individually that you're going to do something about it. Every single person at this town hall has to make a decision. You have to decide, number one, are you going to fight for what you believe in? Number two, are you going to use your voice as loudly and as -- and as strongly as you possibly can? Are you going to regain the control of this democracy's into your hands? Or are you going to leave it with the money special interests that control everything in Washington?

It's really a choice of all of us and for me when I decided I was going to do something, I decided to run. Because I thought this vision for America has to be stronger than what President Trump said and lied to the American people. So many people voted for President Trump because they believed the b.s. They believed what he said to them. He said no bad trade deals. He said the system's rigged. He said build a wall and they believed these lies that he was somehow going to disrupt the system and fight for them. Well he never meant it and he's never going to do it and so we decide to run Erin, it's much more about what are you willing to do for this country? And the only way it's going to work is if people actually vote and everyone they know and love votes, if we restore voting rights. It really does mean publicly funded elections.

It really does mean showing up with your voice, showing up for the town halls. Making you're sure you're holding your elected leaders accountable. Making sure you're holding the people who lied to you everyday accountable and if we're not willing to do that, then you're going to get Donald Trump's again.

BURNETT: I just -- I just --

GILLIBRAND: -- so it's about all of us.

(APPLAUSE)

BURNETT: A big part of the reason that you're standing here are the mentors and the role models that you've had in your life and you're made it clear that one of them is Hillary Clinton. Right?

GILLIBRAND: Yes.

BURNETT: How you decided to get into politics, she wrote the forward to your book. You've called her the greatest role model in -- in -- in all of politics. She's campaigned for you that it's a long and it's a deep relationship.

GILLIBRAND: Yes.

BURNETT: Therefore, I know you did not do it without thinking, without being very thoughtful about the decision that you made when you were -- were the first to come out and say Bill Clinton should have resigned his presidency because of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Did that relationship cost you -- did that comment cost you your relationship with Hillary Clinton?

GILLIBRAND: I -- I don't think so and let's talk about Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton put that 65 million cracks in that highest and hardest glass ceiling. She's inspired the world by her bravery and courage to do what she felt was right, to run for president twice, to be a national leader for her whole life. She's given her life to public service. And so, for me Secretary Clinton is still a role model for all of us and my views on her husband is very different and I've said all I'm going to say about that.

BURNETT: Have you spoken to her?

GILLIBRAND: Yes. I have.

BURNETT: Have you had a heart to heart since that moment?

GILLIBRAND: Yes I have and Hillary Clinton will continue to be a role model for all of us and she's, you know, she's the one which -- when she went to that stage in Beijing I don't know if a lot of young people here don't remember that. But she did stand on that stage and she said women's rights are human rights and human rights are women's rights. And that's what made me say, I -- I'm not invited to that conference, why not? And I said, I want to be involved in those conversations and so I think it's two very different things.

BURNETT: Has she given you advice on this presidential campaign?

GILLIBRAND: Yes she has.

BURNETT: She has?

GILLIBRAND: Yes.

BURNETT: So it is a sense of -- do you feel like she understands or she's forgiven you?

GILLIBRAND: You'd ask her that but my --

BURNETT: But you're -- but you're talking she's given you

(CROSSTALK)

GILLIBRAND: -- and my respect for her are very strong. She's somebody who I still admire and look up to and she's given a lot to this country. And so I think our relationship is strong.

BURNETT: What has -- what's the best advice she's given you so far for this presidential campaign?

GILLIBRAND: Well the best advice she ever gave me when I ran for my first House race and it's still relevant today. And it was if you run, and this was in a two to one Republican district that I had zero chance of winning truly. The only person (inaudible) was my mother. That's tells you more about my mother than anything else. Yes, my mother, by the time she was my age she was a 2nd degree black belt in karate. So let's just put that there. But Hillary's advice to me was only run out of conviction. You have to know in your heart that you're running for the right reasons.

[22:25:00]

Win or lose you have to know you did the right thing and that advice is the best advice I've ever been given about public service and it's the advice I give to all candidates. And -- and back to your earlier question, like this is a moment for all of us to decide what -- what are you going to do and what are you willing to do and will you own this democracy? Will you take it back from the special interests and the greed and corruption that makes every decision in Washington?

BURNETT: So, let's get another audience question in here. I know you're ready to go. Kamran Fareedi is a freshman at American University, go ahead.

KAMRAN FAREEDI: Hi Senator Gillibrand.

GILLIBRAND: Yes.

FAREEDI: My name's Kamran. I have two heart conditions and a spine condition that have required me to get life altering surgeries throughout my childhood. And if my family wasn't able to afford those surgeries, my family couldn't pay for a pacemaker and two steel rods in my back, I wouldn't be alive today. So, would you abolish the private insurance industry that has taken advantage of people like me?

GILLIBRAND: Well first of all, thank you for being so brave and thank you for sharing your story with all of us. It's bravery of yours that inspires me to work harder everyday to take on the insurance companies, to make sure healthcare is a right and not a privilege. That's why I am for Medicare for all and I believe that the best way to get there is let people buy in and that is how we get the single payer over a very short transition, period. I think part of the corruption and greed in Washington is the insurance industry as a middle man for healthcare because they don't necessarily care about which surgeries you need or which medicine you need or how many days in the hospitals you need. Ultimately they're for profit companies and they have to care about their bottom line and their share holders. And I think that's the misalignment in healthcare today. I don't think you can actually get to universal coverage unless you have a not for profit public option that is focused solely on human health.

BURNETT: Would -- would you be able to say though that a -- an option that you support would be able to get him everything that he needs without his family paying a dollar extra? With no wait time and no, OK, well pacemakers aren't included or something like that?

GILLIBRAND: Well, you should ask anyone in America that has access to Medicare. It covers the things you need, certainly covers the medication, covers the surgeries, the hospital stays, everything you need. And I think if people bought it at a price they could afford, like 4 percent of income that would work and if you match it with your employer and you had a choice over -- the way we wrote Senator Sanders' bill. I got to write the transition piece or work on that piece. We had a buy in over four years. I think most Americans, if you do your number crunching in your own head, 4 percent of your income yes it's probably less than you're paying now and people will chose it.

I would chose it in a New York minute and I think if you got -- if you got to Medicare for all what you're going to do is have economy's of scale which will bend the cost curve. You'll have all Americans have access to preventive care which bends the cost curve. And then you actually get some costs out by ending fee for service, making sure our doctors can work on a continuum of care model like they have at that Mayo Clinic.

BURNETT: Right.

GILLIBRAND: And --and make sure that you get the price of pharmaceuticals down. That means taking on the drug companies.

BURNETT: So I do want to talk to you about that, because we have a question about pharmaceutical prices.

GILLIBRAND: And -- this -- the Medicare today is back to greed and corruption. The reason why Medicare patients don't have the lowest cost for drugs is because under George W. Bush they negotiated in the dead of night to make sure that drug manufacturers would never have to negotiate in bulk with Medicare.

BURNETT: When you call insurance companies though, the middle man, under a President Gillibrand would they be gone? No private insurance companies? Yes or no.

GILLIBRAND: You'll have to see whether they want to compete or not. I don't think they will. So the reason why we have a transition plan in the Medicare for All bill a lot of support is because you're going to let American's choose. If the insurance industry wants to continue to participate, to offer some kind of coverage for some kind of thing, they'll have to compete for those customers. But if you let America choose basic care through Medicare which is higher quality and far more affordable, I can't imagine that most Americans won't choose it.

BURNETT: All right. I want to get to another question. Scout has a question. A sophomore at American University. Scout go ahead.

SCOUT PRUSKI: Hi Senator. I am also chronically ill. I know that you speak very passionately about supporting Medicare for all but you also have a long history of taking campaign and lobbying money from pharmaceutical companies. A lot of whom manufacture drugs that prices that I could not afford without insurance. Are you committed to questioning your contradiction in supporting Medicare for all while remaining close to drug companies? How exactly do you plan to reform these practices and can we expect to see the change reflected in your Senate votes and if you are president?

GILLIBRAND: Well, I -- my voting record I stand up to the drug companies. I've sponsored legislation to stand up to the drug companies and I'm not beholden to donors. It's why I'm in favor of publicly funded elections. It's also why I don't take corporate PAC money. It's why I don't take Federal lobbyist money and it's why I don't want to have an individual super PAC. I believe if you want to restore this democracy into your hands, you're going to have to get money out of politics.

[22:30:00]

You're actually going to fight for publicly funded elections. So I'm not beholden to any industries, and my voting record proves it.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN MODERATOR: So, given the optics of being too cozy with pharmaceuticals and the point that Scott was making, why did you allow a Pfizer vice president to host a fundraiser for you --

GILLIBRAND: Because she's my friend, and I've known her lots of years, and she supports my positions on LGBTQ equality, and she supports my positions on women's rights and women's empowerment. So, you know, individuals will support you for all sorts of reasons and you don't want to undermine an individual's right to participate.

But it's one of the reasons -- because you made that assumption, it's one of the reasons why we need to get money out of politics, because it corrodes people's belief that our democracy is strong. So, you want publicly funded elections. It's the quickest and best way to restore people's faith in our democracy.

BURNETT: All right. I want to bring in Jamal Hanson. At age 25, he was sentenced to serve 22 years in federal prison for selling crack cocaine.

You're here with us now.

GILLIBRAND: Jamal --

BURNETT: Your sentence was commuted by President Obama in 2016. I know you now own a car service company here in Washington, so you have completely turned your life into something pretty incredible for all of us to aspire to.

Jamal?

JAMAL HANSON, DRUG SENTENCE COMMUTED IN 2016: My question to you, Senator Gillibrand, I'm a returning citizen. And since returning home, I've paid a considerable amount of money in taxes. I'm of the belief that I should have a say in who represents me in Congress and who represents me in office.

GILLIBRAND: Yes.

HANSON: So I would like to know your position on pardons and restoration of prisoners' rights.

GILLIBRAND: Thank you, Jamal.

(APPLAUSE)

GILLIBRAND: First of all, thank you for being brave and telling your story. It does inspire me and I do support full restoration of felons' rights to vote. I also believe we have to take on institutional racism and particularly mass incarceration and take on all indicia of institutional racism in criminal justice.

It's one of the reasons why I'm for decriminalization and full legalization of marijuana, because of how it's applied in the criminal justice system as purely racist. I also support banning cash bail, because again, the way that is applied, it harms communities of color overwhelmingly and disproportionately.

And then the other places where we see institutional racism and health care and education, and the economy and jobs, I have a lot of ideas of how to do that, and I'll just name a couple. In health care, we have to deal with the fact that if you're a black woman in America today -- in New York City, you're 12 times more likely to die in childbirth, four times more likely nationwide.

We need to take on racism within the educational system. The amount of student debt that communities of color have is far greater.

Then, because we don't have equal pay for equal work, if you're a woman, you're going to be paid less. If you're a woman of color, you're paid even less. If you're a black woman or Hispanic woman, even less.

You need to -- it takes you longer to pay back your student debt. You need equal pay for equal work.

In the economy, it's really hard to get access to capital for communities of color. I've worked on legislation to make it easier for minority small business owners to get access to capital to start their businesses so they have the same chance to let the economy grow and employ people and realize their dreams. But I also believe we have to take on predatory lending which disproportionately affects communities of color, and I want to have postal banking as a way to remedy that.

BURNETT: OK.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

BURNETT: We'll be right back with more from CNN's Democratic Presidential Town Hall with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:35:00]

BURNETT: CNN's Democratic Presidential Town Hall. We're here with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

And we're all ready for our next audience question from Jilian Thomas who is a paralegal here in Washington.

Jilian, go ahead.

JILIAN THOMAS, PARALEGAL: Good evening, Senator.

As someone who's gone from receiving an a rating to the NRA to now having an F rating -- thank you for that, by the way.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMAS: And you've experienced that moment when you realize that your stances on gun control were wrong.

GILLIBRAND: Yes.

THOMAS: What do you feel other Americans are missing that might move them to a more open-minded stance when it comes to gun control?

GILLIBRAND: So I think -- thank you for asking that question and in the way you did.

So, what I recognized pretty quickly when I became a senator was that I didn't spend enough time thinking about other people around the state and other families who were really suffering.

So when I started to meet with families who had lost loved ones to gun violence, it was devastating. When you talk to a mom and a dad who lost their teenage daughter because she was at a party with friend and a stray bullet hit her and killed her, and you meet her whole class, not only do you immediately know that you were wrong, but you know you have to do something about it, because that young woman, Nyasia Pryear-Yard, should not have died, and she should not -- her death should not be in vain.

So I believe that things are changing. I think the fact that you have young people who are marching, not just the kids from Florida but the fact that they work with kids all across America whose friends die every day in their neighborhoods, that they made this movement intersectional and this movement powerful. And they're speaking out. They're walking out of classrooms. They're marching on Washington.

Emma Gonzalez calls B.S. on every lie every member of Congress has ever told her. You have young men standing up to Senator Marco Rubio and say, will you stop taking money from the NRA? And he didn't even have the courage to say yes.

So, for me, these young people are going to change the conversation, because even if Congress doesn't listen to them, the one group of people who will are their parents. And their parents live in all 50 states.

[22:40:00]

And so, this issue is going to be about our families, our communities, protecting our loved ones, and I think I can walk into any voter in a red state or a purple state or a blue state, gun owners, NRA members, and say, you do care about a four-year-old dying on a park bench in Brooklyn, don't you? And the humanity of each person in this country should kick in. And you are going to ask them to imagine that happening to their own child, their own loved one, and their own family.

And I think you can change hearts that way. Because the truth is, we all love our kids. And that is a common bond between everyone in this country. And if I have enough humility to recognize that I'm wrong, I hope there are many Americans around this country who can say the same.

And let's be really clear about what the issue is. It's the NRA and it's greed. The NRA is largely funded by the gun manufacturers. The gun manufacturers want to make money at all costs. It doesn't matter who they are selling the gun to. The reason why they are against universal background checks is they

want to sell a weapon to somebody on the terror watch list. They want to sell a weapon to someone gravely mentally ill with a violent background. They want to sell a weapon to someone with a criminal conviction for a violent crime.

They're against the Violence Against Women's Act. Why? Because they want to make sure a predator or someone who beats his wife can have easy access to a weapon, literally.

So, let's just talk about what it is. It's about greed. So, if we can start defying this debate about the greed and corruption of the NRA and the gun manufacturers that fund them, then we're going to have clarity on this issue. So, I'm more hopeful than I've ever been at any gun violence in the United States.

(APPLAUSE)

BURNETT: Senator, obviously you're from New York, and you know that the mayor of New York City declared a public health emergency today, and he did so because of the measles outbreak --

GILLIBRAND: Right. 3 BURNETT: -- which has been terrible in New York and across this country. Four hundred and sixty-five cases at least this year in this country, of a completely preventable disease if people have vaccines.

The next question comes from Charlie Panfil, a freshman at George Washington University who started a political action committee when you were in high school. So, very passionate about politics.

Go ahead, Charlie.

CHARLIE PANFIL, STUDENT, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: So, you very much for being here tonight. My question is on Stephen Colbert's late night talk show when you announced your candidacy, you talked about the importance of being a young mom.

So, what would you -- in light of the measles outbreak in your home --

GILLIBRAND: I should have said mom of young kids. It was just a stumble because I'm not that young. Although I might be young in the Senate, but I get that.

(LAUGHTER)

GILLIBRAND: I am 52. So, it's not young.

PANFIL: So, what do you say to parents who are choosing not to vaccinate their children, exposing them and their peers to deadly preventable diseases? And as the next president of the United States, would you support mandatory vaccination except in the case of medical exception?

GILLIBRAND: So I think you can -- I haven't thought about whether I would make it mandatory. I need to think about that. But I do believe that parents need more information about why vaccines are so essential. Parents need to know that their child could die of preventable diseases, that they could spread a preventable disease and other children could die.

I think parents have been afraid. I think they've been made afraid by r3umors and myths and, you know, fake news. So I think that we need to do a much better job of educating parents about the essential nature of vaccines. It does save lives, and I will work as hard as I can to make sure that every parent knows that vaccines are absolutely necessary.

I know that it's also a local issue, it's a state issue, and different public schools require vaccines before your child is actually allowed to go into that school. So, it is a state-by-state issue, but I will think about your idea about federally mandating.

BURNETT: I'm curious, you know, as a mom of young children myself --

GILLIBRAND: Yes.

BURNETT: -- obviously, I believe passionately that we need to educate people about the facts of vaccines.

GILLIBRAND: Right.

BURNETT: Which is that vaccines save lives.

GILLIBRAND: Yes.

BURNETT: They save more lives than people even realize at this point because we become so --

GILLIBRAND: Immune to it.

BURNETT: -- lulled into a sensibility that everything is safe.

GILLIBRAND: Yes.

BURNETT: But what's holding you back from mandatory vaccinations when the facts --

GILLIBRAND: Yes.

BURNETT: -- are the facts and they do save lives? What is holding you back?

GILLIBRAND: I just want to research it a little more because I haven't thought about if it's a state's rights issue, how many states already mandate it. If you made a federal mandate, what the impact would be.

I'm not against it. It may be a perfectly good idea, but it's the first time I heard the idea, so I actually want to look into it --

BURNETT: All right.

GILLIBRAND: -- and make sure I'm knowledgeable enough to make an informed decision.

BURNETT: All right. Well, we're going to take a brief break with that. We'll be right back with more from Democratic Presidential Town Hall with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Stay right there.

(APPLAUSE)

[23333333332:45:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

BURNETT: And welcome back to the CNN's Democratic Presidential Town Hall. We are here with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

And I want to bring in Mahko Ikematsu. She teaches special education at charter school here in Washington.

Go ahead with your question, Mahko.

MAHKO IKEMATSU, SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER AT A CHARTER SCHOOL: Good evening, senator.

In your home state of New York, Success Academy, a charter school started by a Democratic city councilwoman in 2006 has become a top 1 percent school in math, science and English. Students of any color, socioeconomic standing, and others can attend. These students graduate and attend college at far higher rates than public schools in the state.

Do you support charter schools like Success Academy? And if so, would you expand funding for charter schools?

GILLIBRAND: So as I've been traveling -- thank you for your question. As I've been traveling around the states that I've been visiting, access to good public schools is top one or two on everyone's mind. It's health care and education.

And what I've heard from most folks around the country is that their public schools are either crumbling, they have terrible infrastructure, or the class size --

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And what I've heard from most folks around the country is that their public schools are either crumbling, they have terrible infrastructure, or the class size is too big, or that they just don't have enough funding.

[22:50:00]

And if you're in a poor area, then you have very poor resources, and if you're in a rich area, you have very good resources.

So, I think we need a much broader approach to fixing our public school education system than just charter versus non-charter. I think that's not really the debate, to be honest. I think for every school that's successful, they have indicia of success. And indicia to success can look like different things.

When a child shows up to school hungry, it means making sure you have breakfast program, a lunch program, maybe even a dinner program. If a child has to walk through a bad neighborhood to get to school, or there's gang violence in their community, they need to have after school program, and we need to have summer school. They need to have internships.

When you look at a child and maybe they have only one parent at home and a parent has two or three jobs, so no one is home when they get home, you need big brothers, big sisters or mentors. The single parent may well need access to social services. They might need help making sure they get their Medicare or Medicaid or Social Security.

So, what has been really successful -- Success Academies are very successful because they have very rigorous academics, but there's other schools around the state that are also successful that not only used rigorous academics but do the 360 degree support of each student. And those are the schools that I think really are scalable for all schools. And I think their success is very inspiring to me.

You look at Say Yes to Education in Upstate New York. So, I think you need to have a solution that is broad based enough to meet the needs of all public schools. We want all public schools to rise in all parts of the country. We need to support our teachers. We need to make sure that we fully fund special ed.

One of the biggest challenges we have, yes, we got a little -- Josh (ph), answer that. We need to fully fund special ed because we've not funded special ed. We're supposed -- federal government is supposed to pay 40 percent. We've not even paid half of that.

And so, let's fully fund it. Maybe get the funding up to 50 percent to take off some of the pressure and some of the schools that don't have enough money.

I also really think it's important to have equalization so that every child in the state has access to the same amount of investment and it doesn't matter if it's a poor neighborhoods or a weak neighborhood. But it needs to be funded because being unfunded equally is not good. So, you need to have more thorough funding.

And last, because this is important, is I think all there's a lot the federal government can do to help state schools. First stop, the unfunded mandates -- either fund it or don't mandate it. And then, second, provide money for bricks and mortar. And also, maybe, you could even provide money for things like music and art and gym and civics and ethics.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

GILLIBRAND: (INAUDIBLE) My teacher likes that idea.

BURNETT: Yes.

(CROSSTALK) GILLIBRAND: So, if you dress it more holistically and offset some costs from the federal government, I think you're going to get to where you want to go faster.

BURNETT: OK.

GILLIBRAND: Yes.

BURNETT: Elise Moore is a senior at American University.

Go ahead, Elise.

ELISE MOORE, STUDENT, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Hi, I'm from Alaska which is seeing the impact of climate change firsthand. Climate change is an extremely important issue but it feels like there's not enough action to preventing the damage that will be done to the United States.

What policies would you put in place that you believe would effectively begin the lead the U.S. towards a more sustainable future?

GILLIBRAND: Well, one of the reasons I'm running for president is because President Trump has left the world stage. When he walks away from global climate change and refused to be part of the Paris Accords, he's refusing to lead the world.

America's always been known as this beacon of light and hope and this leader of the world. And on global climate change, when you have an issue as severe and frightening and the greatest threat to humanity that exist, you're going to get a solution that's bold enough to address the urgency. That's why I'm for the Green New Deal and it's also why I'm for putting a price on carbon. Because I think the combination of those ideas will get you where you need to go.

The Green New Deal is actually three basic ideas that are already bipartisan. It's infrastructure investments, you know, obviously, roads, bridges, sewers, but also high speed rail, rural broadband, a new electric grid, more mass transit. It's green jobs. We've been able to provide good STEM training to folks all across our state, creating opportunities in the green economies.

And third, clean air and water. I know of nothing more bipartisan than clean air and water, because it doesn't matter where you are. If you're in Upstate New York, you got PFOA and PFAS in your water from military bases and from legacy polluters who are manufacturers.

Same problem in New Hampshire. In Iowa, they've got nitrates in the water. In Michigan, they've got lead.

[22:55:00]

So, the truth is, every person all across this country wants to know that their kids have access to clean water. That the water they're bathing their children in or cooking meals in is clean. So, I can't think of a more bipartisan platform.

The only idea that's new is net zero carbon emissions within 10 years. And just on that point, when John F. Kennedy said, I want to put a man on the moon in 10 years, he didn't know if he could do it. But he knew it was an organizing principle. He knew it would be the mission for a generation to say we're going to be the greatest entrepreneurs and innovators because we're going to put a man on the moon. Every kid wanted to be an astronaut.

Why not do the same here? Why not say let's get to net zero carbon emissions in 10 years not because it's easy, but because it's hard, because it will be a measure of our excellence and innovation, and it's a mission we are unwilling to postpone and one we are willing to win just like John F. Kennedy. So I believe this is the greatest economic opportunity, moral opportunity and it is that important that we should try. Why not at least try?

BURNETT: All right. We'll be right back with more of CNN's Presidential Democratic Town Hall with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. We'll be right back. Stay right there.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

BURNETT: And welcome back to CNN's Democratic Presidential Town Hall. We are back with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

Marc Shapiro is a junior at American University.

Marc, go ahead with your question.

[23:00:00]

MARC SHAPIRO, STUDENT, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Hello, Senator.

With all the political impact we've seen young Americans, such as the Parkland students have, would you consider lowering the voting age to 16 years old?

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

GILLIBRAND: It's a good question.

I don't know. I really don't know. I like the idea of it because we want to inspire more young people. But I do like the fact that when you turn 18, you earn this right. It's a special right, a rite of passage. It's also a time when you're independent of your parents as a matter of law.

So I kind of like the simplicity of 18. But because you've asked the question, I will think about it.

BURNETT: Nancy Pelosi has said she's for it. I don't know. You have a 15-year-old who I know is very mature, but maybe that gives you pause because you're right in the middle of that spot and age where it's challenging. GILLIBRAND: I like -- I just like the fact that if you're 18, you are

an adult by law. And so, you will make decisions. You can serve in the military, you can -- you're independent financially. You can make those decisions. So, I kind of like that.

But because he asked, I'm going to think about it.

BURNETT: All right. Peter Dola is --

GILLIBRAND: This is what democracy's all about, speaking directly to your members of Congress, and to your senators and your presidential candidates and asking what you believe.

BURNETT: Peter Dola is a business analyst who consults for federal agencies here in Washington, member of the Arlington Young Democrats.

Go ahead with your question, Peter.

PETER DOLA, BUSINESS ANALYST FOR FEDERAL AGENCIES: Hi, Senator. Is there a room for religious left? If so, how would you reach out? And if not, why not?

GILLIBRAND: Oh my gosh. Perfect question for me. So, I go to two bible studies a week and a prayer breakfast. And so my faith is really important to me.

So, I think anyone should be able to have faith, whether they are ultraconservative or ultra liberal. And if you're coming from Christian perspective, I would say the gospel really doesn't leave anybody out, because -- you know, are you feeding the poor? Are you helping the sick? Are you visiting the incarcerated?

Do you believe in helping the least among us? Do you believe in the Golden Rule? Do you treat others the way you want to be treated?

I would argue that Democrats are often better on those issues than Republicans. So there's no reason why you can't be a person of any faith in any political party.

BURNETT: Have you ever felt that being a person of faith and being Democrat, has that ever felt strange to you or odd or that it doesn't fit? Because people so often hear about religion as being something that goes with conservatives and the Republican Party?

GILLIBRAND: No, no. I define myself by my faith. It centers me. It's something that is one of the reasons why I'm running for president.

I really feel all of us are called. There's a lot of biblical references that were important to me in biggest life decisions.

When I decided to leave my big law firm, I left practicing law because I felt like my soul was dying. I really felt like I wasn't doing the thing I was supposed to be built to do. I felt like God put me on this planet to help people. And I didn't feel like I was making a difference. And so, I really had a crisis of confidence and I tried to get to public service all sorts of ways. I first tried to work at the U.S. attorney's office and failed. I didn't get the jobs, applied to Eastern and Southern.

And then I applied to three major charities. I didn't even get an interview.

And then I wanted to work on Hillary for Senate campaign. I had no relevant experience.

And so, I couldn't find my way to public service. And when I finally did, it was because I met Andrew Cuomo at big event and he was talking about why public service matters and why being a Democrat matters and I was so frustrated, and I went up to (INAUDIBLE) and I said, well, Mr. Secretary, politics is an insider's game and I don't know how to get from A to B, and he said, will you move the Washington? And as a young single girl in New York, I had no interest in ever moving to Washington.

(LAUGHTER)

GILLIBRAND: But I didn't want the conversation to end there, so I went down and interviewed and got the job and that was my first step into public service. But I did that because there's, you know, one biblical reference called the Parable of the Talents, and it's all about whether people use what's been given to them for good. And I didn't think I was doing that.

So for me, that's why I first started public service and in this moment of running for president, it's very much about what are you willing to do in a time such as this, and for whoever -- anybody who knows the bible, it's just a story of a woman who did something really brave. Her name is Queen Esther, when no one else could have done what she did, and she saved the Jews.

But all of us, each person in the room is called to do something. I don't know what it is for you. And I -- but I know for me, it's standing up to President Trump. It's standing up to the hate and the division and the cruelty he's put into this country.

For me, it's about summoning every bit of bravery and conviction I have in my body to do what it takes to bring this country back together, to heal this division, to take on the greed and corruption and special interests in Washington that decide everything, because I can't accomplish anything unless I do that first.

[23:05:00]

Until you restore democracy to your hands, until it's a direct democracy, where it's one person, one vote, where we have voting rights and they can't be taken away by legislatures around this country, where you are the ones who hold me accountable, not some special interest and corporate lobbyist who shows up at my office door -- and so, I know I have the courage to do that. I've done it every part of my life. I've stood up to the Pentagon twice. Once over "don't ask, don't tell" repeal, and second, over sexual violence in the military.

I've stood up to Wall Street as a member of Congress from New York, and I voted against that bank bailout twice.

And I've stood up to Congress. I passed a law to make insider trading for member of Congress illegal.

If you are not willing to take on those fights, then you will never change anything in Washington. If you are unwilling to take on the fights that need to be fought, to go through fire to do what's right, you will never change anything in Washington, and I believe I have the courage, the conviction and fearless determination that it actually takes to not only take on President Trump but then to take on the corruption and greed that makes all the things we want to do impossible. And that's why I'm running for president.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Senator. We appreciate your time.

And thanks so much to all of you for coming to our live town hall, our studio audience. And be sure to tune tomorrow at 10:00 --

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

BURNETT: -- CNN Democratic President Town Hall with Governor Jay Inslee moderated by my colleague, Wolf Blitzer.

On Thursday at 10:00 Eastern for Democratic Presidential Town Hall with the former Secretary Julian Castro moderated by Don Lemon.

"CNN TONIGHT" with Don Lemon starts right now.