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The Briefing: Kirsten Gillibrand's 12 minutes and 51 seconds of fame

WASHINGTON – For 12 minutes and 51 seconds Sunday night, Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand was the most-watched politician in America.

"60 Minutes," the venerable CBS News Sunday magazine, profiled the New York Democrat, calling her "The #MeToo Senator."

The segment's focus on Gillibrand's fight against sexual assault largely covered the same ground as this Buffalo News profile I wrote six weeks ago, but the "60 Minutes" piece did have something that no story I've ever written has had:

12.4 million or so viewers.

That's the number of people who watch "60 Minutes" every week. And that's just one thing about it that likely made residents of Gillibrandland (get used to the term) very happy.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's appearance on "60 Minutes" Sunday likely was seen by more than 12 million people. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Gillibrand denies any ambitions beyond winning re-election, serving New York and continuing her years-long battle against men behaving badly. But she clearly has ambitions – at the very least – of national media coverage, of which the "60 Minutes" piece was only her latest and greatest coup.

In just the past year, she's been profiled in the New York Times, the Los Angeles TimesPolitico, New York magazine and Vogue. Now this sort of thing doesn't just happen; obviously the national media finds Gillibrand fascinating – and vice versa. This is why not a small number of politicos think it looks like Gillibrand is running for president.

In that regard, the "60 Minutes" piece can only help her.

Sure, Sharyn Alfonsi of CBS News asked some tough and good questions. She pressed Gillibrand about her decision to call on Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, to resign in the wake of allegations of inappropriate conduct with women. That prompted the senator to say: "Where's my moral compass if I can't speak out just because I like someone? Just because they're my friend? It's OK to be a harasser as long as you're my friend? That is not OK."

Alfonsi also pressed Gillibrand about her flip-flops, and elicited responses quite unlike anything you typically hear from a politician.

"I was wrong," Gillibrand said in regard to her support for the National Rifle Association a decade ago. "What it's about is the power of the NRA and the greed of that industry. Let's be clear: It is not about hunters' rights; it's about money."

Similarly, asked how a onetime immigration critic could become a strong supporter of America's newcomers, Gillibrand said: "I just didn't take the time to understand why these issues mattered because it wasn't right in front of me. And that was my fault. It was something that I'm embarrassed about and I'm ashamed of."

For a significant number of voters, the "60 Minutes" piece no doubt created their first-ever impression of Gillibrand. And that first impression would be of a politician who is – Could it really be? – humble and introspective and entirely different from the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

What's more, the segment showed the senator living a relatable family life: riding in a minivan with her husband at the wheel and her two young sons in the back, sending the kids off to school and, strangely, sledding down a snowy hillside with her elderly mother.

They're just the sort of images you could imagine seeing in a Gillibrand 2020 ad – which, if it were to air on "60 Minutes," would likely cost more than $124,000.

And that's just for 30 seconds. At that rate, if Gillibrand were to buy 12 minutes and 51 seconds of air time on "60 Minutes," it would cost her about $3 million.

Lucky for her, she didn't have to.

Happening today

It's budget day, as President Trump unveils his spending proposal for fiscal 2019 – which is less important than it might seem, given that Congress last week passed a two-year budget agreement that largely trumps Trump's message today ... Perhaps more significantly, Trump finally reveals the details of his $1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal at a White House event this morning ... Trump then has lunch with Vice President Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ... The Senate begins an open debate on immigration as it searches for a solution for the undocumented young people called the "Dreamers" ... The National Portrait Gallery unveils its portraits of former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama.

Good reads

The Washington Post shows us that Canada is taking a different and controversial approach to tackling the opioid crisis ... Remember the controversy over "bump stocks," which increase the number of bullets that can be fired from an automatic weapon? The Los Angeles Times says states and localities, not the federal government, are leading the fight to regulate them ... Vox checks in with Tim Wu, the former Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor of New York, who notes we're losing the battle over our attention spans ... Politico says there's a wave of progressives filing for Democratic primaries ... And the New York Times raves about President Trump's Food and Drug Administration chief.


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