“The reason [the Republicans] were unable to continue that bill is because America spoke up,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said in reference to the attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act that have occurred in recent months. The senator was in the Hudson Valley Community College gymnasium for her fifth state-wide town meeting on Aug. 9.
“They will bring it up again, I promise you. If they could see their own way to buy off the votes they need like they did in the House, they will do that, so we have to keep speaking out.” The senator then took a moment to relay her thanks to Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—to the loud booing of one man in the bleachers.
Gillibrand encouraged more protest and advocacy during an exclusive interview with The Alt earlier this year.
Out of about 400 attendees, over a dozen constituents stepped up to address their concerns—from their personal struggles in the health to President Donald Trump’s recent altercation with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The senator also addressed issues concerning New York State, such as gerrymandering, pensions, the opioid crisis and the Independent Democratic Conference.
Each audience member had received a raffle ticket at the door that they could drop into a glass jar, giving them the opportunity to raise questions and concerns at random.
While the majority of the questions concerned the actions of Trump and his appointees, quite a few focused on the ever-looming proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Throughout the event, the senator reiterated that the failure to repeal ACA “doesn’t mean it doesn’t need reform,” speaking of her goal to make Medicaid for All—a not-for-profit, universal health care system—a reality. Gillibrand also addressed a question about climbing pharmaceutical costs, saying she has recently drafted a bill, which has not yet reached the floor, to hold corporations responsible. “There is a difference between capitalism and greed,” she said.
The senator also addressed the importance of reaching across party lines to find a common ground, mentioning the dozen bills she has passed with bipartisan support—including the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act signed by Trump.
“It’s not necessarily in the headlines,” Gillibrand said with a shrug, “But my first job is to help people and if I’m not helping people, I should go home.”
Within New York State, Gillibrand addressed the issue of the IDC, whose representatives were elected as Democrats but align with Republicans.
“This state elected a Democratic State Senate. It should be led by a Democrat and it should be controlled by the Democrats and if it was, we would have more progressive bipartisan proposals passing our legislature,” she said.
Gillibrand’s office told The Alt exclusively in June that the IDC is “wrong.”
When asked whether she would endorse Governor Andrew Cuomo in his reelection run Gillibrand voiced her support, but did not officially endorse the governor, praising his economic efforts such as statewide paid leave and $15 minimum wage.
The senator also touched on the issues of global importance that were raised by the audience members such as climate change and foreign policy.
In Gillibrand’s response to one self-proclaimed millennial’s concern about the administration’s denial of climate change, she took the opportunity again to praise grassroots activism efforts, asking constituents to keep telling their government what is happening in their communities.
“Please speak out about it,” she said. “Explain to this White House that it’s real. Explain to Secretary Tillerson and Administrator Pruitt that it’s real. Explain to [them] that global climate change is affecting this community with extreme weather. How many floods have we seen in the Hudson Valley and Capital Region?”
Senator Gillibrand also addressed her push for energy independence and a viable renewable energy industry that is made and operated in the United States.
“We invented all these things but what happened was we didn’t invest in them,” she said. “Do you know who makes these things now? China. They are eating our lunch.”
When asked what the Senate could do to block Trump on the nuclear threats with North Korea, Gillibrand became very quiet. This was an issue, it seemed, she hadn’t been prepared to answer for.
“It’s very concerning to me. I think we should be looking for diplomatic solutions,” she said, explaining that while only Congress can declare war, Trump’s response to the nuclear threat still raised concerns. “Currently he does have certain levels of authority but I will take your question and discuss with my colleagues to see if there’s something we can do legislatively.”
Before ending the session, Senator Gillibrand gathered her notebook–now full of constituent concerns–and announced her plans to run for reelection in 2018 to a standing ovation.