“There's no way that this is sexist at all,” she said. “This is simply talking about a system we have that is broken.”
Many who heard a sexually suggestive undertone to the comment were sharply critical.
Perhaps the most famous among Trump's comments was about Megyn Kelly, then an anchor for Fox News, after a presidential debate last year, that she had “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” The remark was widely denounced as a sexist put-down that drew on a long history of shunning women for menstruating.
But Trump used a similar defense to the one employed by Sanders on Tuesday, saying “only a degenerate would think that I would have meant that.” He didn't say it after all; it was implied, intentional or not.
There was Trump’s feud last June with MSNBC Morning Joe host Mika Brzezinski, who Trump called “crazy” and said she came to his Mar-a-Lago estate “bleeding badly from a facelift.” The comments were widely denounced by Democrats and some Republicans.
And then the comments he made about Carly Fiorina, part of a crowded field of candidates for the GOP presidential nomination, according to a Rolling Stone account in 2015.
“Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” Mr. Trump said, according to the magazine. “I mean, she's a woman, and I'm not s'posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”
He called Meryl Streep “one of the most overrated actresses,” and a “Hillary flunky,” after she criticized him in a Golden Globes speech. Democratic congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson, who criticized Trump over his reaction to the death of Sgt. La David Johnson, was denounced as “wacky.”
He tried to insult Republican Sen. Ted Cruz by tweeting an unflattering photo of his wife, Heidi, next to Melania Trump's.
Trump has used the word “flunky” as an insult many times before, more often for men, like Republican political strategist Karl Rove, Democratic commentator Paul Begala, and former acting head of the CIA Michael Morell, than women.
He has also routinely used alleged stories of his rivals begging him for something as a way to lash out against them, including Republican Sens. Bob Corker and John McCain; Mitt Romney and Rick Perry; and David Letterman. Like the remark about Gillibrand, those insults seem to demean the intended targets by showing Trump in a position of dominance.
On Tuesday, it was the suggestion that Gillibrand “would do anything,” for his donations that many found the most offensive.
Trump, who has given about $5,850 to Gillibrand since 1996, according to Open Secrets, offered no evidence to support his claim. According to Politico, the senator met with Trump, as well as his daughter Ivanka, once in 2010.
Gillibrand is considered a likely Democratic challenger for the presidency in 2020. She was one of the first senators to call for Trump to resign over accusations about sexual misconduct, a stand she made on CNN on Monday.
Trump is facing renewed scrutiny for sexual misconduct allegations made against him during the election, as the national dialogue about the treatment of women by men in power has brought the issue to the fore.
The president's use of innuendo as a weapon is not necessarily limited to women. A recent ceremony meant to honor Najavo codebreakers who served in World War II was situated in front of a portrait of President Andrew Jackson, famous for his harsh treatment of the country's Native Americans. Gyasi Ross, a Native American writer, told The Washington Post that Trump's background as a reality television showman had convinced him the slight was intentional. Of course, it was impossible to prove.