Presidential hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand on impeachment, single payer health care, and abortion rights

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Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) shakes hands after holding a roundtable discussion with abortion providers, health experts, pro-choice activists, and state legislators at the Georgia State House in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., May 16, 2019. Credit: REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage.

At least 11 of the 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates have now called for President Trump to be impeached -- after Special Counsel Robert Mueller broke his silence during a press conference on Wednesday. Mueller reiterated that during his years-long investigation, he did not conclude that Trump had not committed a crime, but couldn’t charge him. Instead, he shifted the burden to Congress.

After the presser, New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand tweeted a call for impeachment.

"In light of what Mueller said yesterday, I really believe now we need to start the impeachment hearings because we need the authority to get that testimony and to get the facts, so that we can make a more informed decision," Gillibrand tells Press Play. "The truth is President Trump's really just trying to subvert the responsibilities of the legislative branch. We are a coequal branch of government, and our job is oversight and accountability. And no one's above the law. So we have to do our job."

Could calls for impeachment alienate white working-class voters who Gillibrand is courting?

Gillibrand says she doesn't think so. "What voters care about, as I traveled around the country, they care about health care. They want access as a right, not a privilege. They want better public schools. They want debt-free college. They want better job training so they can earn their way to the middle class. That's what people want to talk about. So you've got to do both. You've got to do your job as the coequal branch of government and provide oversight and accountability. But you also have to provide a vision for this country that's stronger than what President Trump's done… You need a leader who's going to push past the politics of the moment and talk about a vision for the country. And that's who I am."

She says the way to solve problems on health care, education and jobs is to get money out of politics.

Health care like Social Security

Gillibrand favors single-payer health care. She says the best way to get there is to create a public buy-in option for Medicare at a price Americans can afford, such as 4% of their income, and give them five years to buy in.

"The truth is insurance companies raise their rates every year. They deny people the medicine they need, the hospital stays they need, the procedures they need -- all because of money… So most Americans I believe will choose Medicare within five years. And then your step to single payer is so short because you can actually make it an earned benefit. You could make it just like Social Security where everybody buys in, and it's part of the social safety net and the social insurance."

Abortion as a human right

Several states, including Indiana, Louisiana, and Alabama, have passed restrictive abortion laws. Gillibrand has said that abortion is a human right, but she's Catholic and attends church regularly. The Catholic church is adamantly anti-abortion. How does she reconcile that conflict?

Gillibrand points out that the Catholic church is also adamantly anti-gay rights, against women being priests, and against priests marrying -- and so it isn't right about everything.

"I believe that these are very intimate personal life and death decisions that it should be the human right, the civil right, and the constitutional right of a woman to make -- regardless of where her faith is. You cannot impose your faith on other people. It's certainly against the Christian faith. We believe in free will. And it's certainly against the Constitution that believes in the separation of church and state," she says. "And I think what these governments in Alabama and Georgia and the 30 states that are trying to unwind women's reproductive freedom -- it's an all-out assault on women."

Former Senator Al Franken, sexual violence, and doing what's right

Gillibrand led the charge to get Al Franken to resign from the Senate for sexual impropriety. He was popular with the base, and many people would like to see him question some Trump administration officials.

Gillibrand says Franken he had eight credible allegations against him for groping and forcibly kissing that were corroborated in real time.

"I couldn't defend him, and I refused to stay silent even when it's hard. And so I wasn't going to make excuses for him. I also am a mother of sons, and I need to have clarity in my home when Theo, my 15-year-old, said, 'Mom why are you so tough on Al Franken?' I have to say, 'Theo, it's not okay to grope a woman anywhere on her body without her consent. And then it's not okay to forcibly kiss the woman ever without her consent. Not okay for Al Franken, not okay for you.' "

Gillibrand says she led efforts to end sexual violence against women and men in the military, to end the way college campuses treat sexual violence, and to end sexual harassment in Congress.

"I lead on these issues. And for some Democratic donors to be angry that I stood with eight women, including a Congressional staffer, that's on them," she says. "This is what leadership looks like. It's hard to do what's right when it's inconvenient, to do what's right when it's a friend, to do what's right when it's someone in your own party. It's really hard…But if you can't stand up for what's right… then how are you going to lead the country? … How are you going to stand up to world leaders when they're attacking our country? It's something President Trump isn't willing to do."

What questions do you have for the presidential candidates?

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Michell Eloy