It’s not what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, it was how it was covered, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand explained when asked Tuesday about being called the “hottest member of the Senate” several years ago.
“I was flattered, but I was disappointed that the press didn’t cover the second thing that he said,” Gillibrand said Tuesday morning at a Politico Women Rule breakfast in downtown Washington, D.C.
Back in 2010, Reid, D-Nev., commended Gillibrand’s appearance at a fundraiser at former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s house. But he offered a wonkish compliment to her as well.
Gillibrand, D-N.Y., recalled Reid saying, "Some people are well known for how they dress, some people are well known for how they speak. Sen. Gillibrand, she’s known because she’s the hottest woman in the Senate, but she’s also the smartest on financial regulatory reform."
“I was really smart on financial regulatory reform!” Gillibrand exclaimed. “That doesn’t get reported – so I was disappointed that I didn’t get the second half.”
At the time, Politico harped on the comment, saying it was "not considered wise politics" for Reid to say such a thing. And while Gillibrand wouldn't knock Reid, she said the U.S. Senate wasn't exactly the most female-friendly place to work. “It’s an old boys club, without a doubt,” she offered Tuesday. “I wouldn’t say it’s sexist, I would say it is a reality.”
Another media storyline that also had some truth to it was the rift between Gillibrand and colleague Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. McCaskill came onstage and immediately swatted down the story that she and Gillibrand were in a prolonged catfight over their differing views on how to handle sexual assaults in the military.
McCaskill explained how she and Gillibrand worked together closely and agreed on practically everything – except one point. McCaskill believes that unit commanders, under some additional review, should decide how a reported sexual assault crime is prosecuted, whereas Gillibrand believes those decisions should be made outside the chain of command.
“And the interesting thing is the media got totally fixated on the two women disagreeing on policy,” McCaskill said. “That became a bright, shiny object and the massive amount of historic reform didn’t get an inch of coverage that it deserved.” The agreed-upon reforms made it into the Defense Authorization Act, while McCaskill's and Gillibrand’s bills, containing their preferred approaches, each got a separate vote. In the end, McCaskill’s legislation passed and is headed to the House, while Gillibrand’s measure was stalled in the Senate.
This left McCaskill ready to move on (she’s going to start looking into sexual assaults on college campuses). She called Gillibrand a “friend” Tuesday, arguing that “women can disagree on substantive policy and lightning doesn't strike the building.”
But Gillibrand's remarks carried a different tune. The New York Democrat said the media was right to highlight the contrasts all along.
“I think it’s an important difference,” she noted.