Kirsten Gillibrand takes questions at CNN town hall

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10:47 p.m. ET, April 9, 2019

Gillibrand defends fundraiser hosted by Pfizer executive

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, after touting her voting record on standing up to drug companies, defended her decision to allow a top executive at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to host a fundraiser for her 2020 campaign.

Sally Susman, Pfizer’s executive vice president and chief corporate affairs officer, hosted a fundraiser for Gillibrand earlier this year. Asked about the fundraiser on Tuesday, Gillibrand said her connection to Susman was personal.

“Why did you allow the Pfizer vice president to do that?” CNN’s Erin Burnett asked.

“Because she’s my friend, and she supports LGBTQ equality, she supports my beliefs,” Gillibrand said. “You don’t want to undermine an individual’s right to participate, but because you made that assumption, it’s one of the reasons we need to get money out of politics. Because it corrodes people’s belief that our democracy is strong.”

Gillibrand, in response to a question from a voter, defended her record on dealing with drug prices.

“I stand up to the drug companies,” she said. “I’ve sponsored legislation to stand up to the drug companies and I’m not beholden to donors. That’s why I’m in favor of publicly funded elections. It’s why I don’t take lobbyist money and it’s why I don’t want to have an individual super PAC. I believe if you want this in your own hands, you have to fight for public elections. I’m not beholden to any industries, and my drug record proves it.”

10:34 p.m. ET, April 9, 2019

Gillibrand "ashamed" of past immigration views but says she's in the "right place" now

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand attempted to turn her previous conservative views on immigration into a strength on Tuesday, telling an audience that her admission that those views were wrong shows her ability to admit her mistakes.

Gillibrand held conservative views on immigration as a member of the House who represented a district in upstate New York.

“When I was 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,” Gillibrand said. “They were not thoughtful enough and didn’t care enough about people outside of the original upstate New York district that I represented. So, I learned.”

She added:

“And I think for people who aspire to be president, I think it’s really important that you’re able to admit when you’re 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.”

Gillibrand went on to say that she believes people should treat each other how they would like to be treated and was “ashamed” that she didn’t do that in the House.

“I did not do that as a House member, I was ashamed,” she said. “And so now as a senator for 10 years, I know I’m in the right place.”

Gillibrand ran and won a House seat around Albany, New York, in 2006 by attacking her Republican opponent from the right on immigration and guns, calling securing the border “a national security priority” and touting an A-rating from the National Rifle Association.

Gillibrand’s conservative record is one of the key criticisms her nascent candidacy receives from the left, but it shows how the 2020 candidate’s early strategy is to face up to questions about her record, not run away from them, believing that embracing her story and evolution on issues like guns and immigration could win plaudits from caucus goers in Iowa and convince them that she could win a general election against Trump by appealing to a spectrum of voters.

10:18 p.m. ET, April 9, 2019

Gillibrand: Trump is tearing apart the moral fabric of this country

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand accused President Trump of "literally tearing apart the moral fabric of this country" at her town hall Tuesday night while speaking to her own perceived bipartisanship.

"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."

Telling an audience member that she was able to unite "the red places, the blue places, [and] the purple places" in New York together, Gillibrand predicted she could do it countrywide, too -- "which is one of the reasons why I'm running for president. I believe I can bring this country together," she said.

10:16 p.m. ET, April 9, 2019

Actress Connie Britton was Gillibrand's college roommate

Connie Britton speaks in support of Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks during a rally in front of Trump International Hotel & Tower on March 24, 2019 in New York City.
Connie Britton speaks in support of Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks during a rally in front of Trump International Hotel & Tower on March 24, 2019 in New York City.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand opened tonight's town hall with little Chinese and a brief story about her college years.

Asked to describe herself in Chinese, the Democratic presidential candidate did so, saying, "Hi. How are you?" as well as her Chinese name. A translator in Erin Burnett's ear said her accent was pretty impressive.

Gillibrand said she learned Chinese in college and traveled throughout the country. She also lived in Beijing and shared a dorm with actress Connie Britton.

"We struggled just to get through because it was really hard. You're in a very different country with very few rights. Very few rights for women, very few rights for people in general. We bought bikes and biked all around Beijing, and we explored every weekend. We went all across China and then I spent a second semester in Taiwan," she said.

10:02 p.m. ET, April 9, 2019

NOW: Gillibrand takes the stage for CNN town hall

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand just took the stage for tonight's CNN town hall in Washington, D.C. You can watch it live in the video player above.

Democrats and Independents are sitting in the audience tonight.

Earlier today, Gillibrand tweeted about the town hall, saying she was excited to "answer voters' questions and share why I'm running and who I'm fighting for."

9:22 p.m. ET, April 9, 2019

What you need to know about Kirsten Gillibrand

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is running to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

The New York Democrat started her official campaign with a trip to Michigan, a once solidly blue state that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton lost to President Trump.

Here's what else you should know about Gillibrand:

  • She was a former US House representative in a heavily Republican district in New York. She was tapped in 2009 to fill Hillary Clinton's US Senate seat in New York when Clinton was named Secretary of State.
  • Gillibrand was re-elected to the Senate in 2018 and rose to national prominence as an outspoken critic of Trump, an advocate for women's issues, and a forceful proponent of the #MeToo movement — all of which will be central to her 2020 campaign.
  • In 2017, she was the first senator to call for former Minnesota Democrat Al Franken to resign from the Senate after allegations that he touched women inappropriately.
  • Her past conservative record on immigration and guns is also being scrutinized by the left and attacked by Republicans who seek to paint her as a flip-flopper. Her shift further to the left on the issue of gay marriage once she was appointed to the Senate was documented in a Washington Post story this year.
9:05 p.m. ET, April 9, 2019

Kirsten Gillibrand tees up for CNN's town hall

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand tweeted a video today showing off her batting skills in preparation for tonight's town hall.

"Getting ready for tonight’s CNN town hall!," she tweeted.

The Democratic presidential candidate appeared to hit the ball into center field.

Watch the moment:

8:54 p.m. ET, April 9, 2019

Tonight: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will face voters at a CNN town hall

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand is set to face voters' questions at a CNN town tall in Washington, D.C. tonight.

The event, moderated by CNN's Erin Burnett, starts at 10 p.m. ET. You can watch it live on CNN or in the video player above.

Gillibrand, 52, is one of six women seeking the Democratic nomination and one of six senators running for president.

The New York Democrat launched an exploratory campaign in January, announcing it on CBS' "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert." She officially announced her candidacy in March.

Gillibrand campaigned as a child with her grandmother Dorthea Noonan, a longtime president of the Albany Democratic Women's Club. The New York Democrat called for former Sen. Al Franken to resign and has acknowledged her increasingly progressive stances on immigration and gun reform running counter to previous positions she held when running for the House (she served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2007 to 2009, representing New York's Capital District).