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Kirsten Gillibrand to enter 2020 presidential race

Posted at 2:08 PM, Jan 15, 2019

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is expected to enter the 2020 presidential race on Tuesday, two sources with knowledge of her plans tell CNN, launching an exploratory committee just days before she heads to the critical state of Iowa.

Gillbrand, a Democrat from New York, will make the announcement, which was first reported by CBS News, on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert."

Gillibrand, who was elected for her second full term in the Senate in 2018, has risen in national prominence in recent years as a forceful proponent of the #MeToo movement and fierce critic of President Donald Trump. People close to Gillibrand have indicated the senator will run a campaign centered on gender issues, something she has championed in the House and Senate.

While it is certain that Gillibrand's focus on Trump will continue during her campaign, the New York Democrat will have to get through a sizable field of Democrats considering a run for President, including a handful of her colleagues in the Senate. Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced an exploratory committee last month and has traveled to Iowa and New Hampshire, while California Sen. Kamala Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and others are publicly considering a bid.

Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro , former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and Richard Ojeda , a former congressional candidate in West Virginia who lost his 2018 bid, have all announced bids for the Democratic nomination.

A spokesperson for Gillibrand declined to comment on her plans.

Gillibrand has already stacked her campaign with a number of top hires who were speaking with other contenders.

Jess Fassler, Gillibrand's chief of staff, will work as the senator's campaign manager. Fassler has been with Gillibrand since she was a House member representing upstate New York.

Dan McNally, formerly the political director at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, will work as Gillibrand's campaign director. McNally, a longtime Democratic operative who managed Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet's 2016 campaign, has worked at both the DSCC and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Meredith Kelly, the former communications director for the DCCC, will be the senator's communications director. And Emmy Bengtson, digital director to Gavin Newsom's successful California gubernatorial campaign last year and deputy social media director for Hillary Clinton in 2016, will work as Gillibrand's deputy communications director.

Gillibrand, formerly a moderate Democrat in the House of Representatives, has shifted to more liberal positions since being appointed to Clinton's Senate seat in 2009.

She is a vocal critic of Trump and has sparred with him on Twitter, the President's favorite social media platform.

After Gillibrand called for Trump's resignation after multiple women renewed their sexual misconduct allegations against him, Trump slammed the senator with language that Gillibrand later called a "sexist smear."

"Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office "begging" for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump," Trump tweeted in December 2017.

Gillibrand responded by calling the tweet a "a sexist smear intended to silence me."

Gillibrand enters the 2020 field with $10.5 million in the bank, a sizable war chest that would make her one of the most financially formidable candidates.

While her most recent Senate run helped replenish her campaign coffers, it also provided opponents with a potential attack and a question Gillibrand has to answer: She promised voters in 2018 to serve her full term.

"I will serve my six-year term," she said during a Senate debate when asked about her 2020 plans.

In 2017, Gillibrand ran afoul of some powerful Democratic donors after leading calls urging Minnesota Democrat Al Franken to resign from the Senate. Franken quit following allegations that he touched women inappropriately.

Some donors believed Franken, a popular lawmaker, was pushed out of office too quickly and could have weathered the controversy.

Addressing the criticism about her role in Franken's resignation, Gillibrand told CNN's Van Jones in December: "Sometimes you just have to do what's right, even if it's painful ... if I can't protect the women in my workspace, if I can't — not only stand up for women who feel abused, or feel harassed in our workplace — then I'm not doing my job, and so I just got to a point where enough was enough."

Around the same time that she came out against Franken, Gillibrand also said that in hindsight, former President Bill Clinton should have resigned because of his affair with then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

"Things have changed today, and I think under those circumstances there should be a very different reaction," Gillibrand said in an interview with The New York Times. Asked if he should have resigned, she added, "Yes, I think that is the appropriate response."