Gillibrand Still Faces Questions About Al Franken

Presuming there’d been an Ethics Committee investigation and Franken had been cleared, Gavin said, “he would have been a perfect example of, ‘You know what, it’s OK to be accused and have an investigation. There would have actually been some additional credibility to the argument that it wasn’t all just a ploy.”

When I called Buell’s office in October, in the middle of the Kavanaugh hearings, to ask if her perspective had changed over the last year and with what was playing out on Capitol Hill, Belinda Muñoz, the executive director of Buell’s foundation and her political point person, wasn’t much interested in talking.

“Are people really still interested in that?” Muñoz asked. Buell was out of the country, she said, and out of reach, but maybe she’d call back.

She didn’t. And neither called back last week when I tried to follow up.

But in the time since, Buell has taken more swipes at Gillibrand. And people around Gillibrand, including some of the big donors who were drawn closer by the Franken episode, have gotten more annoyed.

“If she’s so smart and so calculating, then she knows that this would have a lot of backlash,” said Naomi Aberly, a big Dallas-based donor who’s chair of the Planned Parenthood Federation board of directors. “It’s easiest to have one narrative about each candidate, and this one is the one she’s burdened with, but I don’t think it hinders her overall.”           

Ramsey Ellis, a hand and wrist surgeon from outside Chicago, said she sees “internalized misogyny” at work in the people who’ve continued to attack Gillibrand.

That goes for the women, like Buell, too, Ellis said.

“Here’s a Democratic woman who has every reason as a feminist, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t sort of have misogynist programming in your brain that we blame the woman, Senator Gillibrand, for speaking out, even in the face of escalating accusations,” Ellis said. “Just because you’re a woman or a feminist doesn’t mean that you can’t respond to and address cultural issues with a misogynist lens.”

Gillibrand supporters don’t love that she enters the presidential race with Franken hanging over her. But they also see some potential benefits (comedian Sam Bee responded to Trump’s tweet about her, “May this tweet be @SenGillibrand‘s superhero origin story and ignite her 2020 campaign to replace your sexist ass), and there’s a hope that it can have some political benefit as an argument that she’ll stand up for principle, and for women.

Hogue said that though she and NARAL aren’t endorsing any candidate at this early stage, but “what I will 100 percent endorse is her willingness to never veer from the course of fighting for women.”

Gillibrand, of course, wouldn’t engage in that kind of political talk about her—“I did what I thought was right because that’s who I am,” she said, saying there’s a straight line from her standing up for victims of military sexual assault and other people who are voiceless and powerless to that moment she walked up the press conference and answered the question everyone had been asking her for a week.

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