Kirsten Elizabeth Gillibrand* (née Rutnik) was born on December 9, 1966, in Albany, New York. Her parents were both attorneys. She says she inherited a dedication to public service from her grandmother and mother, who organized women and served their communities as Democratic activists.
After attending Albany’s Academy of Holy Names, Gillibrand graduated in 1984 from the Emma Willard School in Troy, New York – the first all-women’s high school in the United States. She enrolled at Dartmouth College where she majored in Asian Studies, studying in both Beijing and Taiwan. Gillibrand graduated magna cum laude in 1988. During college, Gillibrand interned at Republican U.S. Senator Alfonse D’Amato’s Albany office.
Gillibrand received her J.D. from UCLA School of Law in 1991 and joined the Manhattan-based law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell as an associate. In 1992, she took a leave from Davis Polk to serve as a law clerk to Judge Roger Miner on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Albany.
Gillibrand’s tenure at Davis Polk included serving as a defense attorney for tobacco company Philip Morris. While working at Davis Polk, Gillibrand became involved in – and later the leader of—the Women’s Leadership Forum, a program of the Democratic National Committee.
She went on to serve as Special Counsel to Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Andrew Cuomo during the last year of the Clinton administration.
In 2001, Gillibrand became a partner in the Manhattan office of Boies, Schiller & Flexner. In 2002, she informed Boies of her interest in running for office and was permitted to transfer to the firm’s Albany office. She left Boies in 2005 and moved home to upstate New York to raise her family and begin her 2006 campaign for Congress.
In 2006, Gillibrand was elected to the House. She was reelected in 2008. On December 1, 2008, President-elect Barack Obama announced his choice of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Clinton resigned her senate seat. Under New York law, the governor appoints a replacement. A special election would then be held in November 2010 for the remainder of the full term.
Governor David Paterson appointed Gillibrand and she was sworn in on January 26, 2009. She then won the 2010 special election, which gave her the right to serve the rest of Clinton’s second term, which ended in January 2013. Gillibrand ran and was elected for a full six-year term in 2012 and reelected in 2018.
While in the Senate, Gillibrand has served on the following committees;
- Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
- Committee on Armed Services
- Committee on Environment and Public Works
- Special Committee on Aging
In 2014, Gillibrand published her first book, Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World, and it made the New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover nonfiction.
On March 17, 2019, she announced she was entering the 2020 presidential campaign. She withdrew from the race on August 28, 2019, after failing to qualify for the third Democratic debate.
Gillibrand lives in the town of Brunswick with her husband Jonathan and their two sons.
In 2017, Gillibrand withdrew her sponsorship of the bipartisan Israel Anti-Boycott Act, citing the criticism of the American Civil Liberties Union that it would infringe upon freedom of speech.
She was one of 22 Democrats who voted against the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019 (76 senators voted aye) a bill that authorizes state and local governments to demand that contractors declare they do not support boycotts of Israel or its settlements in the West Bank. She and other Democrats who opposed the bill said they did so because of their concern that it could limit Americans’ First Amendment rights. (JTA, February 7, 2019)
- In response to anti-Semitism remarks by Rep. Ilhan Omar, Gillibrand issued a statement that “those with critical views of Israel, such as Congresswoman Omar, should be able to express their views without employing anti-Semitic tropes about money or influence.” (Haaretz, March 7, 2019)
Gillibrand was asked about Israel’s decision to deny entry to Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI): “I think as a friend and ally, we need to hold them accountable,” Gillibrand said. Asked how, she said, “That’s what you do as president, President Trump is unwilling to hold anyone accountable. He’s unwilling to stand up to other world leaders. You've seen this with instance of Israel, seen it with China and Russia.” She added, “I don't know why Netanyahu would want to deny members of Congress to come to Israel if they expect us to be that never-ending partner and friend.” (Washington Free Beacon, August 18, 2019).
Axios asked candidates if they would move the U.S. embassy back to Tel Aviv: “As Senator Gillibrand said at the time, she believes that Jerusalem is the enduring capital of Israel but President Trump’s decision came at the wrong time because it would make it harder to reach the sustainable two-state solution needed to ensure the long-term security and prosperity of Israel. While she won’t undo that unproductive and impulsive decision, she would undertake new diplomatic initiatives to restart peace negotiations, including reopening the diplomatic mission to the Palestinians, our USAID presence in the West Bank and restarting USAID programs that President Trump has cut,” Gillibrand’s national press secretary told Axios. (Axios, July 14, 2019)
Asked by the New York Times, “Do you think Israel meets international standards of human rights?” Gillibrand responded, “I do, and I believe that Israel is our greatest ally in the Middle East, but we also have to care about her neighbors and make sure that we address the humanitarian crisis throughout communities, including those where the Palestinians live right now. I think we have to do far more to relieve the suffering in places like the West Bank and Gaza. I think it’s important that continue to provide humanitarian support. But I think what President Trump has done in the Middle East is very damaging. He’s done thing prematurely outside of a long-term negotiation for a two-state solution, and I think that has created more risks of enormous problems and issues for long term stability.” (New York Times, June 19, 2019)
“I have always worked hard for the U.S. Israel alliance. To make sure it is strong. Our nations have intertwined national security issues…I am a voice to … make sure Israel always has a qualitative military edge to protect her country.” (Comments to American Jewish Committee, June 4, 2019)
Following an outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas in November 2018, Gillibrand said: “I am relieved that Israel’s missile defense programs were able to avert civilian fatalities from this disgraceful terror attack. I urge calm so the situation does not further escalate, and I still remain hopeful for a long-term, peaceful solution to this tragic conflict. But the only way we will accomplish that is through negotiations that create conditions for safety and economic security – not through rocket attacks or any other acts of terrorism.”
In 2017, she voiced concern that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “does not have a plan for peace and doesn’t have a vision for peace,” adding that at a 2016 meeting in Israel with the prime minister, “the question we asked is, what is your vision for peace, and he didn’t have one….If you don’t have a vision, if you don’t have a plan, then it is never going to happen. And so we do need to require more of our world leaders, and I think a call to action to Israel’s government to have a plan for peace is really incumbent on all of us.”
In January 2017, she supported a Senate resolution criticizing UN Security Council Resolution 2334 after the Obama administration abstained and allowed it to pass. (World Israel News, March 18, 2019)
In September 2016, Gillibrand and Sen. Rounds (R-SD) penned a letter signed by 86 other senators encouraging him to continue the United States long-standing policy of vetoing any one-sided United Nations Security Council resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Moderator Chuck Todd asked the candidates in the second Democratic debate: “You're likely going to have to reset a relationship between America and another country or entity if you become president... What is the first relationship you would like to reset as president?”
Gillibrand: “President Trump is hell-bent on starting a war with Iran. My first act will be to engage Iran to stabilize the Middle East and make sure we do not start an unwanted, never-ending war.” (New York Times, June 28, 2019)
- In September 2009, Gillibrand released a statement that the “Iranian regime’s word cannot be trusted, and a nuclear Iran cannot be tolerated,” only to support “an imperfect Iran deal” in 2015. “I have decided to support this deal after closely reading the agreement, participating in multiple classified briefings, questioning Energy Secretary [Ernest] Moniz and other officials, consulting independent arms control experts, and talking with many constituents who both support and oppose this deal,” wrote Gillibrand.
On U.S. leaving the nuclear deal: “By walking away from the agreement, the president has opened the door to Iran going back to developing a nuclear-weapons program. This unilateral decision will cost us the ability to maintain a strong coalition holding Iran accountable and the ability to increase leverage and oversight with our European allies.” (World Israel News, March 18, 2019) She has not taken a position on rejoining Iran deal.
Sources: Kirsten Gillibrand;
“Kirsten Gillibrand,” Wikipedia;
Ron Kampeas, “5 Jewish things to know about Kirsten Gillibrand,” JTA, (January 16, 2019);
Ron Kampeas, “Why these Democratic presidential hopefuls voted no on an anti-BDS bill,” JTA, (February 7, 2019);
Amir Tibon, “Gillibrand Becomes First Democratic Presidential Candidate to Criticize Omar’s ‘anti-Semitic Tropes,” Haaretz, (March 7, 2019);
David Jablinowitz, “US presidential hopeful Gillibrand has ‘mixed record’ on Israel,” World Israel News, (March 18, 2019);
Comments to American Jewish Committee, (June 4, 2019);
“18 Questions. 21 Democrats. Here’s What They Said,” New York Times, (June 19, 2019);
“2019 Democratic Debates, Night 2: Full Transcript,” New York Times, (June 28, 2019);
Alayna Treene and Barak Ravid, “Top 2020 Dems wouldn’t reverse Trump’s Jerusalem embassy decision,” Axios, (July 14, 2019;
Andrew Kugle, “Gillibrand: We Need to Hold Israel ‘Accountable,’” Washington Free Beacon, (August 18, 2019).