Republicans Duck Questions, Play Down Trump’s Attack On Gillibrand

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., attends a news conference where she and other members of congress have introduced legislation to curb sexual harassment in the workplace, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in Washington. Gillibrand and fellow female Democratic senators have united in calling for Sen. Al Franken to resign amid sexual misconduct allegations. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Andrew Harnik/AP

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) was at Tuesday morning Bible study—a rare bipartisan activity on Capitol Hill—with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) when her aides interrupted to inform her that President Donald Trump had gone after her on Twitter as a “lightweight” who “would do anything” for campaign donations.

Gillibrand and other Democrats immediately denounced the President’s post as a “slur” against her that implied an exchange of sexual favors for money. But Rounds and other Republicans asked about the exchange on Tuesday largely refused to comment, either claiming not to have seen the message or playing it down as unimportant.

“I think it’s simply one of those cases where it’s best if we look at what the President does and not pay attention to the tweets,” Rounds told reporters with a shrug.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), one of few Republican women in the Senate, appeared irritated when asked Tuesday about the tweet. “This is what everyone is distracted by,” she said, declining to comment.

Several lawmakers, including Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), claimed he had not seen the President’s tweet. When a reporter offered to read the message to him from his phone, Corker laughed and begged off. “I don’t know if I want you to show it to me. I can’t respond if I don’t know anything about it,” he said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the only Republican to publicly criticize the President for the post—Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), who was also at the morning Bible study meeting—did so in mild terms.

“Respectful dialogue and disagreement sets a better example for our children and the world. Our leaders should focus on the issues, not personal attacks,” he wrote in a statement to the Washington Post. 

Democrats, meanwhile, did not hold back.

“It was a sexist slur that disgraces the office and diminishes the presidency,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told reporters in the basement of the Capitol “It is utterly reprehensible.”

Blumenthal says that even after a year of the President’s controversial, insult-laced statements on social media, this morning’s comment on Gillibrand stands out.

“It was directed against a sitting United States senator for her focus on issues of sexual harassment and assault, which implied such a derogatory aspersion on her that I think it is really distinct and despicable,” he said.