Kirsten Gillibrand’s fiery Fox News town hall on Sunday showed exactly why it’s vital for more women to have a seat at the table.
On a varied set of issues, from abortion rights and intersectionality to gun control, Gillibrand confronted Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, openly criticizing the network’s coverage of abortion during one particularly pointed back-and-forth. A New York senator who’s long made gender equity a core plank of her political identity (and now her 2020 candidacy), Gillibrand delivered a town hall appearance that only underscored the importance of this message.
One exchange, in particular, illustrated the need for greater representation in politics. At one point, Wallace pressed Gillibrand to explain a tweet she had posted in December emphasizing that the future was female and intersectional. “What do you mean our future is female?” he asked.
Our future is:— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) December 5, 2018
Powered by our belief in one another.
And we’re just getting started.
“We want women to have a seat at the table,” Gillibrand replied.
“But what about men?” Wallace asked, seemingly suggesting that her message could imply some kind of exclusion, a common fear that’s been expressed about movements that advance people who have historically been underrepresented in different fields.
“They’re already there! Do you not know?” Gillibrand hit back, prompting laughter and cheers from the audience.
“I guess what I’m asking is, are we part of the future too?” Wallace said.
“Yes, you’re already there,” Gillibrand reiterated. “It’s not meant to be exclusionary, it’s meant to be inclusionary. ... We just want to add a couple chairs for the rest of us.”
“All right, we’re not threatened,” Wallace said.
Gillibrand’s skeptical reaction was likely spurred by just how male-dominated politics and many other industries still are: Seventy-seven percent of the House and 75 percent of the Senate is still comprised of men, and the US has yet to ever elect a woman president. To suggest that men don’t already have a seat at the table would mean ignoring those facts.
Yet as different groups work to address existing gaps, it’s prompted concern among some people who’ve traditionally dominated certain fields. Gillibrand’s response confronts such fears head-on: She emphasized that the rise of women or any underrepresented group isn’t something that comes at the expense of anyone else. What women’s empowerment is about, she notes, is simply equality.
Gillibrand also called out Fox News for its coverage on abortion rights
While a handful of Democratic candidates have opted not to go on Fox News for a town hall, including notably Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who dubbed the network a “hate-for-profit” racket, Gillibrand used her time on the platform to critique its skewed coverage of abortion.
Much like South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Gillibrand took on the network directly, especially its attempts to tie abortions later in pregnancy to infanticide — an inaccurate talking point that President Donald Trump has adopted in several major speeches and that Fox News has discussed, she says, for hours of prime-time coverage.
“The debate about whether or not women should have reproductive freedom has turned into a red herring debate,” she said, emphasizing that anti-abortion voices have sought to use fear-mongering about the use of abortions later in pregnancies in order to shift the framing of the debate.
As Vox’s Anna North has reported, Trump and other Republicans have increasingly linked abortions that happen in the third trimester to infanticide, a claim that distorts the conversation:
“The baby is born,” Trump said at a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin [in April.] “The mother meets with the doctor. They take care of the baby. They wrap the baby beautifully, and then the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby.”
Trump’s inflammatory words are part of a larger movement. At an especially contentious time in the abortion debate, opponents of the procedure have focused their attention on abortions that happen late in pregnancy. In some cases, they’re implying that laws allowing later abortions make it legal to kill a baby after birth (they do not).
Gillibrand on Sunday called out Fox News for playing a role in perpetuating such misinformation, calling it a “problem.” While Republicans have emphasized concerns about the use of abortions later in pregnancies, research shows that around 1 percent of abortions take place at 21 weeks or later, many of which are due to medical complications.
I'm never going to stop fighting for women and for our progressive values—whether or not it's considered "polite." That’s why I’m running for president. pic.twitter.com/YWQr3EsNwx— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) June 3, 2019
Unlike his response to Buttigieg’s critiques of the network, however, Wallace interrupted Gillibrand’s point and argued that she wasn’t being “very polite” in her comments about the network while she was its guest. “I’ll do it in a polite way,” she responded.
“What happens on Fox News is relevant because they talked about infanticide for 6.5 hours, 6.5 hours right before President Trump’s State of the Union,” Gillibrand said. “That is not the debate of what access to reproductive care is in this country. It doesn’t happen, it’s illegal, it’s not a fact.”
Reproductive rights is an issue area where Gillibrand has established herself as a leader. She’s among the candidates who’s been most aggressive about laying out a specific abortion rights policy, and was the first to say she’d only appoint judges who support Roe v. Wade.
Despite her high-profile work as a senator, however, Gillibrand’s campaign has struggled to attract a wider donor base, though she’s already qualified for the early Democratic debates by hitting the necessary polling threshold. Her appearance at Fox News on Sunday was her latest chance to make her case. And her town hall comments prove why it’s such an important one.