Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand indicated in an interview today that she will not support President-elect Donald Trump‘s nomination of her colleague from Alabama, Sen. Jeff Sessions, for U.S. Attorney General—and cited the Southern lawmaker’s ambivalent response to the Queens-born businessman’s caught-on-camera comments about molesting women as evidence Sessions is unfit for the post.
Speaking with radio host Brian Lehrer on WNYC today, Gillibrand voiced dismay that so many voters in critical states cast ballots for Trump in spite of the 11-year-old tape leaked in October, in which the reality TV tycoon related how his fame enabled him “grab [women] by the pussy” with impunity. Trump dismissed the candid remarks as mere “locker room talk,” and went on to clinch the Electoral College on Election Day, even though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote.
“Certainly, I thought it was disqualifying. Somebody who’s bragging about sexually assaulting women should really never be elected to be president of the United States,” said Gillibrand, the Democrat who replaced Clinton as the junior senator from New York in 2009. “I don’t know why more people did not find it disqualifying.”
“It is not locker room talk. It is criminal, criminal behavior,” she continued.
Sessions was a top Trump supporter and surrogate during the campaign, and in an interview with the conservative Weekly Standard after the second presidential, he called the mogul’s remarks about women “improper talk.” But when pressed as to whether he believed the then-candidate was describing sexual assault, Sessions first answered “I don’t characterize that as sexual assault,” and then “I don’t know.”
Gillibrand, who has gained national attention for her advocacy on behalf of rape victims on college campuses and in the military, noted that the Department of Justice has jurisdiction over both those institutions. She asserted that a failure to recognize a clear description of sexual assault showed Sessions lacked the qualifications to become the country’s top law enforcement official.
“I have very grave concerns about Senator Sessions as the head of the Department of Justice. And I will of course pay attention to his hearings, and I will of course give him the opportunity to speak out about what kind of a head of the department he’s going to be,” Gillibrand began. “But I have to say, those comments are so offensive, and so dangerous. And if he doesn’t understand the basics of what sexual assault is, I don’t know how he can be attorney general. Because, honestly, that’s one of the attorney general’s jobs.”
“He has a real role in this. And if he doesn’t understand the basic tenets of what sexual assault is, then I don’t think he has the background and knowledge he will need to be attorney general,” she continued.
The New York senator’s remarks come just days after the Rev. Al Sharpton blasted Sessions over racist comments he allegedly made in the 1980s. These included accusations that he had referred to a black prosecutor as “boy,” spoke favorably of the Ku Klux Klan and called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People “un-American.”
Gillibrand also hit Trump over his calls during the campaign for a registry of Muslim Americans.
“If he literally does those things, then it is the beginning of a very long war,” Gillibrand said. “That is not tolerable in this country.”
Sen. Charles Schumer now leads the Democratic caucus, which numbers 48 senators in all, including Gillibrand. They are the lone federal bulwark against Trump’s policies, as the current rules of the Senate require 60 votes to close discussion on any matter.
Both Schumer and Trump have signaled a willingness to collaborate on certain issues, including infrastructure spending. West Virginia Sen. Joseph Manchin, a Democrat, has already said he will support Sessions’ confirmation.
A spokesman for Trump did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.