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Kirsten Gillibrand to Stephen Colbert: 'I'm going to run' for president

NEW YORK — Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, freshly elected to a second full term as New York's junior senator, said Tuesday she's launching an exploratory committee for a run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

"It's an important first step," she said in an appearance on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" on CBS. "It's one that I'm taking because I am going to run."

Gillibrand, 52, told Colbert that she's running to take on the money-driven political system and reform it to put the American people first.

"I know I have the competence, the courage and the fearless determination to get that done," she said.

Asked what she would do if she wins, Gillibrand spelled out a vision of the presidency that she said stands in contrast to President Trump, a Republican.

"The first thing I would do is restore what's been lost: the integrity and the compassion in this country," she said.

Touting her bipartisan efforts to pass a health bill for people who survived the 9/11 terror attacks as well as a bill repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the military, Gillibrand promised to bring people together and pursue a family-first presidency.

"I'm going to fight for other people's kids as hard as I fight for my own," she said.

As part of her campaign rollout, Gillibrand's campaign planned to post a two-minute video that portrayed her as she's always portrayed herself: as a can-do senator who's ready to take on President Trump while still delighting in raising her two young sons.

Meanwhile, aides circulated a document that repeated the slogan "Now Is Our Time." It noted that women voters have been especially engaged in politics since Trump's election, and made the case that Gillibrand is the female candidate best positioned to beat Trump.

Gillibrand has a vast grassroots fundraising base, the document noted. And along with a list of accomplishments, the campaign document said she has crossover appeal to non-Democrats, having won 18 New York counties last year that Trump won only two years earlier.

Her appearance on Colbert's show comes after a week of activity pointing toward a presidential campaign.

Gillibrand is leasing office space in Troy, near her Rensselaer County home, for a campaign headquarters, and plans a campaign trip to Iowa — the first presidential caucus state — this weekend.

In addition, she hired Meredith Kelly, former top spokesman for the Democratic National Congressional Committee, to be her campaign's communication director. Jess Fassler, Gillibrand's Senate chief of staff, and Dan McNally, a former aide to Senate Democrats, will head her campaign, which has hired several other top aides.

Former Gov. David Paterson appointed Gillibrand — then a member of the House from the Hudson Valley — to her Senate seat in 2009, when then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton resigned to serve as secretary of state.

Gillibrand, who had supported gun rights and criticized open immigration as a House member, quickly moved to the political left once she entered the Senate.

There, she led the movement for a crackdown on sexual assault and harassment in the military and on college campuses long before the #MeToo movement started to grow in 2017. That year, Gillibrand also became the first senator to call for the resignation of then-Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, amid charges that he inappropriately touched several women.

She also became one of President Trump's fiercest critics, refusing to vote for any of his cabinet nominees in 2017.

Gillibrand will join what's expected to be a large field of Democratic candidates.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a leader of the party's progressive wing, has already announced her campaign and traveled to Iowa.

Other senators likely to run for the nomination include Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California. Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sherrod Brown of Ohio are also considering launching campaigns.

Other potential big-name candidates for the nomination include former Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas. Several lesser-known figures, such as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, have already announced their campaigns, and several others are expected to do so.

Ed Cox, chair of the state's Republican Party, offered criticism late Tuesday of Gillibrand's announcement.

“It was only three months ago during her debate with GOP candidate Chele Farley that Kirsten Gillibrand point-blank lied to New Yorkers that she would fulfill her term if re-elected," Cox said in an emailed statement. "In her lackluster career as an elected official, she has demonstrated a disturbing disregard for the truth and principled positions in the name of self-serving personal advancement.”

Gillibrand, who is widely considered to be among the top tier of Democratic candidates, promised to bring a positive message to the American people.

Noting that the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said that only light can drive out darkness, she said: "All of us are called to be that light right now."

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