The Corner

Politics & Policy

Kirsten Gillibrand’s Empty Gender Rhetoric

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Capitol Hill, December 2017 (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

The race is on among Democratic presidential hopefuls to outdo each other in producing clickbaity soundbites — especially of the “woke” variety — that will help position them with primary voters as the Democratic answer to Donald Trump’s demagogic style while actually saying nothing that makes any sense. We can expect a lot more of this “Trump Envy” as 2020 approaches. Today’s example comes from New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand:

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) argued during a Tuesday panel at the Center for American Progress Ideas Festival that having females in leadership roles would solve problems, saying, “If it wasn’t Lehman Brothers but Lehman Sisters, we might not have had the financial collapse.”

The statement by Gillibrand was actually stolen from the International Monetary Fund’s Christine Lagarde, who made the same “Lehman Sisters” comment in 2010 and said it was “of course” just a joke. Lagarde repeated the line in a 2012 interview with Niall Ferguson, again making clear it was a joke.

Gillibrand didn’t appear to be joking during her panel on “Women’s Power,” where she was joined on stage by former Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards and Democratic political veteran Jennifer Palmieri.

“The empowerment of women is so important throughout the economy,” Gillibrand said. “We don’t value women in society, and that’s just a fact.”

Note that this is not an argument for diverse perspectives at the table, or an argument for the merits of individual women, but an effort to sell the notion that women, just by being women, can run things better.

Leave aside for now that the Jewish immigrants who founded Lehman Brothers in the 1850s are long dead, or that the company had a female CFO in 2007-08, or that the financial crisis was about a web of government decisions and market actors (including the housing policies of Gillibrand’s then-boss, Andrew Cuomo, as secretary of Housing and Urban Development at the end of the Clinton years). Leave aside that empirical research doesn’t support the idea that women in positions of power in the banking industry take fewer financial risks.

If Kirsten Gillibrand actually believes that it is really important to put women in positions of power, how does she show this? Let’s look at the area where she has the most personal influence over the gender of people in authority: how she has handled nominations of women to positions of power in the Executive Branch:

-Voted against Kirstjen Nielsen as secretary of Homeland Security
-Voted against Elaine Chao as secretary of Transportation
-Voted against Betsy DeVos as secretary of Education
-Voted against Heather Wilson as secretary of the Air Force
-Voted against Linda McMahon to run the Small Business Administration
-Voted against Seema Verma to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
-Voted against Kristine Svinicki to run the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
-Voted against Neomi Rao to run the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs
-Voted against Pam Patenaude as deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development
-Voted against Courtney Simmons Elwood as CIA general counsel
-Voted against Sigal Mandelker as under secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence
-Voted against Jennifer Gillian Newstead as legal adviser of the Department of State
-Currently opposes Gina Haspel as CIA director

The only major female executive-branch nominee that Gillibrand voted for was Nikki Haley as U.N. ambassador. And while some of these nominations were controversial, many of the others were not — Mandelker, for example, was confirmed 96-4, Newstead 88-11, Svinicki 88-9.

How about judges? Gillibrand has had the chance to vote on five federal appeals-court nominees:

-Voted against Amy Coney Barrett for the Seventh Circuit
-Voted against Joan Larsen for the Sixth Circuit
-Voted against Allison Eid for the Tenth Circuit
-Voted against Elizabeth Branch for the Eleventh Circuit
-Voted for Amy St. Eve (who was confirmed 91-0) for the Seventh Circuit

Now, nobody expects senators to act as a rubber-stamp for every nominee, regardless of the individual arguments about those nominees. And Gillibrand surely has the authority, which she chooses to exercise, to vote en masse against nearly every nominee regardless of their individual merits, to signal her total opposition to the Trump administration. But either way, she’s not acting on her supposed preference for getting more women in positions of power — at best, she’s completely indifferent to the gender of Trump nominees, opposing them no matter what (a recent Politico analysis found that she has voted yes on only 14 nominations across the executive and judicial branches, out of 112 nominations — 12.5 percent — and as you can see from the above, her rate of yes votes on female nominees to major posts is even lower than that). If she really believed what she said, she’d actually apply it to her own votes.


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