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On The Trail With Democratic Presidential Candidate Kirsten Gillibrand

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR SINGERS: (Singing) Victory today is mine.


That music you're hearing, it's the choir at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Waterloo, Iowa. At the pulpit this past Sunday, Kirsten Gillibrand, the New York senator and now Democratic presidential candidate.


CORNISH: NPR's Tamara Keith recently spent time with Gillibrand. That's part of the NPR Politics Podcast project to interview 2020 candidates out on the trail. They're doing this alongside with Iowa Public Radio and New Hampshire Public Radio. Tam's here to tell us more about their interview. Hey there.


CORNISH: So I want to stay in the church for a minute because you did spend some time talking about the candidate's faith.

KEITH: Right. Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters asked her, tell us something that people don't really know about you. And she pointed to her faith. She was raised Catholic and still identifies as Catholic, but she attends various Christian churches now. She's also been one of the most outspoken candidates in the Democratic field when it comes to abortion rights. So what I asked her was how she squares that with her Catholic faith because the Catholic Church is very much against abortion.

KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: I think the Catholic Church can be wrong on many things. And I don't agree with their views on reproductive rights, and I don't think they're supported by the Gospel or the Bible in any way. I just - I don't see it, and I go to two Bible studies a week. I take my faith really seriously. So I disagree.

KEITH: She also says that she disagrees with Republicans and President Trump and said that the Republican Party is not a party of faith.

CORNISH: She's one of many senators running, and it seems like maybe she's struggled to differentiate herself from the pack.

KEITH: That's right. You know, she has not yet been guaranteed a place on the Democratic debate stage. There are two thresholds, and if you get them both then you're guaranteed. One is polling at least 1%. She has done that. But she has not been able to raise money from the 65,000 individual donors that are also required for that.

So we went to a campaign event of hers, a meet-and-greet at a bar, and she was not even a little bit subtle about her need to get her name and her face out there.

GILLIBRAND: I'll stay as long as you guys want to stay. I'll take as many selfies as you want. I just ask you to please post them.

KEITH: Please post. At that event, I talked to a bunch of voters. None of them were planning to caucus for Kirsten Gillibrand. All of them that I talked to at least said they were still shopping around. And when naming their top picks, she wasn't on the list.

CORNISH: You know, Tam, one of the things Senator Gillibrand is best known for, obviously, is the push for Senator Al Franken to resign when allegations of sexual harassment came to light. And I know that was a big question. Here's how you put it to her.

KEITH: Do you think that calling out your colleague has hurt you in terms of fundraising and other things like that? And do you think that there's any hypocrisy in people who say they don't want to give you money because of Al Franken, when people were perfectly happy when it was Republicans getting in trouble?

GILLIBRAND: I do. And with Senator Franken, there were eight allegations that were corroborated in real time, and my job was to decide whether or not to defend it. And my silence was a defense. So if a few donors in our party are angry that I stood with eight women who came forward, that's on them.

KEITH: It's impossible to say whether Democratic backlash, over her being the first senator to call for him to resign, whether that backlash is part of the challenge her campaign is having or not. But it's definitely hanging out there.

CORNISH: Finally, the senator is the only woman running for president with school-age children. Some of the men running do as well, but it's something that she spoke about with you. What did she have to say?

KEITH: When we were out with her on the campaign trail, she was actually campaigning with her husband and her 11-year-old son, Henry. And she talked about how she's had to miss some of his soccer games and other family moments. And she said that her husband has really had to, as a result of the campaign, become the primary caregiver in the family. And that has led to some changes around the house.

GILLIBRAND: I said, Henry, it's 8:30. It's bedtime. You got to get upstairs. You got to brush your teeth. He's like, oh, no, Mom. Those aren't the rules anymore. Daddy's rules. And I don't have to be in bed till 9:30. (Laughter) I'm like, OK. New rules. But if that's what makes them work, that's OK with me.

KEITH: She is already planning to rent an RV this summer to campaign with her kids and her husband. And that time will be critical for her campaign because under new Democratic Party rules, to make the fall debates, she's going to need an even higher number of individual donors.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Tam, thanks for sharing this with us.

KEITH: You're welcome.

CORNISH: And you can hear the full interview with Senator Gillibrand on the NPR Politics Podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.