WASHINGTON – President Trump's charge that Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand would "do anything" for campaign contributions prompted a fierce backlash Tuesday, as critics said the president made an outlandish and sexually suggestive accusation against the Senate's foremost fighter against sexual harassment.
The dust-up between the president and a possible Democratic challenger for his job started shortly after dawn, as Trump took to Twitter to attack both Gillibrand and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, like Gillibrand a New York Democrat.
"Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office 'begging' for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump," the president's tweet said.
Trump's attack came a day after Gillibrand called for his resignation in light of the fact that during his campaign last year, more than a dozen women accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior in years past. Trump's tweet prompted a heated response not only from Gillibrand, but also from a number of other top Democrats who read it as implying that Gillibrand would do sexual favors in return for campaign cash.
Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office “begging” for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2017
"It was a sexist smear attempting to silence my voice. And I will not be silenced on this issue," Gillibrand told reporters at a press conference on an unrelated topic.
Gillibrand also responded to the president on Twitter, saying: "You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office."
You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office. https://t.co/UbQZqubXZv
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) December 12, 2017
Schumer weighed in as well. On Twitter, he called Gillibrand an outstanding senator.
"The President's tweet today was nasty & unbecoming of a president," Schumer tweeted. "@realDonaldTrump needs to cut it out with the tweeting, period. He should stop tweeting & start leading."
And Sen. Elizabeth Warren -- another possible contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 -- tweeted: "Are you really trying to bully, intimidate and slut-shame @SenGillibrand? Do you know who you're picking a fight with? Good luck with that."
Are you really trying to bully, intimidate and slut-shame @SenGillibrand? Do you know who you're picking a fight with? Good luck with that, @realDonaldTrump. Nevertheless, #shepersisted. https://t.co/mYJtBZfxiu
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) December 12, 2017
Republicans, meantime, appeared to struggle for words when asked about Trump's attack on Gillibrand.
Asked whether Rep. Chris Collins thought Trump's tweet was inappropriate, the Clarence Republican's spokeswoman, Sarah Minkel, refused to answer the question. Instead, Minkel attacked Gillibrand, saying: “When it benefited Kirsten Gillibrand, she gladly asked for and accepted Bill Clinton’s endorsement despite knowing his history. Her hypocrisy knows no bounds.”
And when asked if he thought Trump's tweet was sexist, Rep. Tom Reed, a Corning Republican who has long taken a leading role in fighting sexual harassment, dodged the question.
"I'm not going to comment on interpreting those tweets and interpreting the conversation, the back and forth," Reed told reporters on his weekly conference call. "What I'm going to offer my voice for is to -- it is good that we're having this open and honest conversation on how we can improve relationships in this area and how we can work with each other to respect each other and then move forward."
In his tweet, Trump also chided Gillibrand for saying last month that Bill Clinton should have resigned amid a scandal during his presidency two decades ago involving his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Gillibrand said that even though she had long welcomed the support of Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Clinton, whom Trump beat in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump alluded to that fact in his tweet, saying of Gillibrand: "Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!"
Asked about the tweet, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended it. She said that the president meant that Gillibrand was "controlled by contributions," and that he didn't intend any sort of sexual innuendo by saying Gillibrand would "do anything" for them.
"I think only if your mind is in the gutter would you have read it that way," Sanders said, noting that Trump has used that "do anything" phrase several times in reference to both men and women over the years.
Asked earlier in the day if she begged Trump for campaign contributions as Trump alleged, Gillibrand rolled her eyes.
"He was just a supporter," she said.
Trump donated $7,950 to Gillibrand's House and Senate campaigns between 2007 and 2010, federal records show. In addition, the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, gave Gillibrand's Senate campaign $2,000 in April of 2014.
Gillibrand, widely seen as a contender for the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential nomination, has been leading the fight in Congress against sexual harassment in the military, on college campuses and – most recently – in public office.
In an interview Monday on CNN, Gillibrand said Trump should resign in light of the sexual harassment allegations against him.
"These allegations are credible; they are numerous," Gillibrand said. "I've heard these women's testimony, and many of them are heartbreaking."
Gillibrand told CNN that Congress ought to investigate the allegations if Trump won't resign.
Her attack on Trump came the week after three other Democratic senators – Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Corey Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon – called for Trump's resignation.
Also last week, Gillibrand and five other female senators called for the resignation of Sen. Al Franken, prompting a rush of other calls for the Minnesota Democrat to quit. Franken, who stands accused by a half-dozen women of inappropriate kissing or touching, said the next day he would leave office.
Now Gillibrand is pressing Trump to quit, and she's not alone.
Trump "is a misogynist, compulsive liar, and admitted sexual predator," tweeted Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii. "Attacks on Kirsten are the latest example that no one is safe from this bully. He must resign."
.@realDonaldTrump is a misogynist, compulsive liar, and admitted sexual predator. Attacks on Kirsten are the latest example that no one is safe from this bully. He must resign. https://t.co/7lNI23K7ib
— Senator Mazie Hirono (@maziehirono) December 12, 2017
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, didn't go that far, but she called Trump's tweet "disgusting, disgraceful and of course obviously not true," the Washington Post reported.
Trump frequently takes to Twitter to lash out at his critics, so it's no great surprise that he attacked Gillibrand a day after she called for his resignation.
But if Trump lashed into Gillibrand in hopes of riling up his base of support, his move may have backfired, elevating the profile of a senator who may well run against him in 2020.
Only 18,000 people retweeted Trump's tweet attacking Gillibrand as of late Tuesday afternoon -- while 100,000 people retweeted Gillibrand's response.