It’s common knowledge that she was waaaaaaay more conservative on immigration as a member of the House in 2008 than she was as an appointee to the Senate a year later. One minute she was facing reelection in a conservative district upstate, the next minute she was facing reelection in a statewide race in one of the most liberal states in the country. Her constituency changed and thus so did Gillibrand’s principles — in the blink of an eye, for no grander reason than that that’s what getting reelected required.
All of this is known. What’s less known is just how hardcore a border enforcer she was. Take 10 minutes to read this CNN compilation of her greatest hits on immigration and let your mind boggle at how many planks of the border-hawk platform Gillibrand supported. Closing the border. Building hundreds of miles of fencing. Punishing employers who hired illegal immigrants. Blocking state driver’s licenses for illegals. More funding for ICE. Making English the official language of the United States. You name it, she was for it. Seriously, read. Drink it all in. I’m tempted to say she was to Trump’s right on the issue. That’d be an exaggeration but only a mild one.
So here’s my question, and may God forgive me for the thought: Should righties … be rooting for Gillibrand in the Democratic primary?
Running for the House in 2006, Gillibrand attacked her opponent from the right on immigration and called securing the border “a national security priority.” In a 2007 interview, Gillibrand said “you have to close the borders” as a first step to “right size” immigration. In a 2008 mailer sent from her congressional office, Gillibrand touted her efforts to expedite “the removal of illegal aliens by expanding detention capacity and increasing the number of Federal District Court judges.”…
Gillibrand was also a co-sponsor of the SAVE Act, a bill from Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler, opposed by pro-immigration groups but largely supported by Republicans. The bill was an enforcement-only approach to immigration that would have increased border security by adding 8,000 new border patrol agents, made it easier to deport undocumented immigrants, required companies verify the legal status of their workers and added an additional 1,150 ICE agents…
She voted in favor of an amendment to increase border fencing and technology by almost $90 million. She also voted in favor of an amendment to increase ICE funding by $9 million to work with local law enforcement to identify and remove undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes. She voted in favor of an amendment from then-Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, a leading immigration hardliner at the time, that would bar the use of funds in a Department of Homeland Security spending bill from assisting local and state governments that “refuse to share information with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement on an individual’s citizenship or immigration status.”
The excerpt only scratches the surface. Asked about all of this later, after her magical transformation into a garden-variety open-borders New York liberal, Gillibrand would mumble about being ashamed of her prior stances and pointed to her meetings with pro-immigration groups as having helped educate her about “the perspective of undocumented immigrants living in fear of the deportation of a family member.” About which we might say two things. One: If you vote yes on a thousand enforcement bills and then have a total change of heart after meeting with some activists, you’re not much of a legislator. Either your position was glib and weakly held before or it’s glib and weakly held now. Bad either way. Two: Deportation has nothing to do with many of the enforcement measures she previously supported. Removing illegals who are already here is one thing, creating obstacles to new illegals arriving is another. Why doesn’t Gillibrand continue to support the latter even if she no longer supports the former?
Here’s my dilemma. On the one hand, she’s a reptile. She’s one of the most cynically opportunistic politicians in America, as you’ve already read me say a dozen times before. There’s no better illustration of it than CNN’s timeline of her immigration reversals. It’s simply impossible to respect her the way one might respect, say, Bernie Sanders or even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for having the courage of their convictions, however bananas those convictions might be. Gillibrand is the ultimate tell-them-what-they-want-to-hear candidate. One reason I wanted to write about the CNN piece, in fact, was to help circulate it online. It will be pure poison to her in the Democratic primary and we will, and should, enjoy the resulting political pain.
And yet. Revisiting all of the above, we should want her to win, no? Do you really want President Bernie in office trying to use “emergency powers” to nationalize the health insurance industry or whatever? Or do you want President Reptile, who’ll take a hard look at the 2024 map, realize that her newest constituency is a redder one than she faced running for Senate in New York state, and will recalibrate accordingly? Needless to say, she’s never going to be the Gillibrand of 2007 again on immigration. She’d lose the left if she went that route. But the President Gillibrand of 2021 might be more equivocal on the issue than the hardcore liberal Gillibrand of 2019, who’s only thinking about kissing leftists’ asses right now. It grieves me to say it but there’s no other serious-ish contender in the Democratic field more likely to tack to the center for reasons of pure political expediency as president than Gillibrand is.
So should we … root for the reptile? The person who looked the other way at Bill Clinton’s sins for decades before deciding that she was going to be “the women’s candidate” in 2020 and concluded 20 years after the fact that he probably should have resigned during the Lewinsky scandal? We should do it. But I don’t know if we can do it. She’s so repellent.