“I think her key issues are going to be family leave and sexual assault,” said Sean McElwee, a left-wing activist in New York City who has discussed policy with the senator and her staff. “Those have really been her key policy priorities.”
As a senator, Gillibrand also helped repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that barred openly gay or lesbian people from military service, and spearheaded a law that in 2011 disbursed billions of dollars to the victims and first responders in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
More recently, Gillibrand has also embraced a number of policy ideas popular with the Democratic Party’s base — including the push to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency — despite initially joining Congress as a member of Democrats' conservative Blue Dog coalition who touted her favorable rating from the National Rifle Association.
Conservatives are likely to accuse Gillibrand of embracing large increases in federal spending at a time when deficits are already approaching $1 trillion annually, and moving to the far left on immigration, health care and other issues. The Daily Caller, a conservative publication, has accused Gillibrand of trying to exploit “identity and gender politics” to win the nomination.
Here’s a look at some of the policies Gillibrand has backed, as well as those she hopes can power her to the White House.
Universal paid family leave. In 2013, Gillibrand released a bill to create America’s first universal paid family leave program. It would pay workers while they take time off if they have to take care of a sick child, parent or spouse; give birth to a child; or get sick themselves.
Currently, the U.S. is the only country in the developed world that does not require businesses to give paid leave to new mothers, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found. Mothers are guaranteed zero paid time off, but those that are given such benefits from their employer are likely to be much higher up the income ladder, said Heather Boushey, executive director and chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth
Gillibrand has reintroduced the legislation in every Congress since 2013, and it was co-sponsored by about a dozen other senators last year, including at least four who are running or considered to be running for president. The plan is likely to be a prominent feature of her presidential campaign.
“Gillibrand has been 100 percent committed and dedicated to this issue,” said Boushey, crediting Gillibrand for helping push paid family leave into American political discourse, including during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. “She’s definitely led the charge in the Senate."
Gillibrand’s proposal would raise money by levying a 0.4 percent payroll tax for 12 weeks of paid family leave at an income replacement rate of 66 percent. Conservatives have instead pitched plans that do rely on new taxes, and have called for maternity leave to be funded by redirecting existing spending like Social Security.
Combating sexual harassment, discrimination. Perhaps nothing Gillibrand did last Congress got as much attention as her decision to push for former senator Al Franken’s (D-Minn.) ouster from the Senate amid sexual misconduct allegations against him.
“Sometimes you just have to do what’s right — even if it’s painful,” Gillibrand told CNN last year, as she met a backlash from Democratic Party donors over opposing Franken. “There were eight credible allegations [against Franken].”
Gillibrand has also advanced legislation related to the #MeToo movement and issues of sexual misconduct, including a bill that passed last year to address widespread criticisms of Congress’s process for handling sexual misconduct. The legislation makes lawmakers financially liable for settlements, gives accusers access to legal representation, and simplifies the process for accusers to file complaints. Previously, taxpayers footed the bill for any settlement or award reached after a complaint was lodged against a member of the House or Senate.
Years before #MeToo, Gillibrand in 2013 also introduced a bill targeting sexual harassment and misconduct in the military, despite public blowback from leaders at the Pentagon. The legislation would send military sexual assault allegations to independent prosecutors outside of the “chain of command."
Although that proposal has not been signed into law, the U.S. military has adopted several measures to combat sexual misconduct — including mandatory focus groups and surveys of personnel — amid the pressure brought by Gillibrand’s public criticisms, said Ally Coll Steele, head of the Purple Campaign, which advocates to end sexual harassment in the workplace.
Gillibrand and Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) “have been the key leaders on this issue, especially since #MeToo started,” Steele said. “(Gillibrand) is probably the member of the Senate with the strongest understanding of this issue and the complicated dynamics in creating policies to fix it.”
Gillibrand has also joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers to unveil a bill to outlaw forced arbitration clauses that prevent sexual harassment survivors from going to court over their grievances. About 60 million Americans are currently forced to sign these arbitration clauses, often without their knowledge, according to the bill’s sponsors. The bill has been co-sponsored by Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Murkowski but has not passed Congress.
“It’s the next big policy issue Congress should take up on the #MeToo agenda,” said Steele, of the Purple Campaign.
Ending cash bail, reducing maternal mortality, postal banking. Gillibrand will also pitch several policy ideas aimed in part at closing gaps between white Americans and people of color, including ending cash bail, legalizing marijuana and reducing mortality rates for mothers during childbirth.
Gillibrand’s legislation on maternal mortality rates would give hospitals across the country additional funding to implement “best practices” in childbirth. The legislation was aimed at reversing the stunning rise in maternal deaths during childbirth in America, the majority of which are preventable, particularly among black women.
In December 2018, Gillibrand held a news conference with the NAACP to call for Congress to end the current cash bail system, which disproportionately jails poor Americans who cannot make cash bail payments. Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) have also pushed for reforming bail, said Inimai Chettiar, director of the Justice Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. Gillibrand has co-sponsored the “No Money Bail Act” authored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
"Several years ago, this would have been seen as really radical, " Chettiar said. “She’s definitely committed to the issue, but it’s a newer issue to her than some of the other candidates.”
Gillibrand has also unveiled legislation to offer banking services at U.S. Postal Service offices, which would include low-cost loans and allow the poor to create savings accounts without paying payday lenders exorbitant rates. She followed Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in doing so, according to the American Banker, a trade publication.
Getting money out of politics. Gillibrand’s campaign said if elected she would also work to get money out of American politics, a stance widely shared by Democratic presidential primary contenders.
Her campaign also points to her authoring and helping pass the Stock Act in 2012, which prohibits members of Congress from trading stocks on the basis of private information they picked up because they are lawmakers. Gillibrand has released all of her tax returns every year she has served in office, according to her campaign, which also said she is the first member of Congress to post her official meetings, personal financial disclosures and earmark requests on the Internet.
Medicare-for-all: In September 2017, Gillibrand co-sponsored Sanders’s “Medicare-for-all” bill to nationalize health insurance, joining likely presidential candidates Harris, Warren and Booker.
Medicare-for-all is a proposal to move every American to a single government-run insurer that charges no deductibles or premiums. Doing so would massively increase government expenditures — by as much as $33 trillion by 2031, according to one conservative think tank’s estimate — while offering health insurance to the Americans who lack it and preventing millions more from being forced into medical bankruptcy. It would require enormous tax increases to finance, although supporters maintain that they would be offset by zeroing out every family’s spending on premiums and deductibles.
At least three other declared presidential candidates — Warren; Julián Castro, the former Obama administration housing official who announced his candidacy over the weekend; and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) — also say they support Medicare-for-all.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Gillibrand released a bill to create America’s first universal paid family leave program in 2010. She released the bill in 2013.