Elizabeth Warren

A Conversation with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand- Sept. 14, 2015

Elizabeth Warren
September 14, 2015— Boston, Massachusetts
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ELIZABETH WARREN: Thank you. That is a truly wonderful introduction, and I do like to think that all three of the Kennedy brothers would be delighted to look down and see that the two of us hold their seats. So it is wonderful to be here today.

It does make me proud to be from Massachusetts, to be here where people like to hear about books and talk about books. [laughter] So I want to dive right in to this book, which you start, Kirsten, with a rather blunt and bleak confession. You say, and I'm quoting here, "I'm angry and I'm depressed, and I'm scared that the women's movement is dead or at least on life support." Why do you think that's the case?

GILLIBRAND: Well, I think in too many halls of power women's voices aren't being heard. And the reason why I wrote this book and told stories about my mentors and role models, from Hillary Clinton to my mom, who was only one of three women in her law school class, who I remember working on the phone on an adoption case and making dinner all at the same time, and me just looking at her in awe. And my grandmother, who loved politics and got us involved in campaigns from the earliest age in sweaty headquarters with lots of older ladies with their arms jiggling as they stuffed the envelope. [laughter]

WARREN: Watch it! [laughter]

GILLIBRAND: I was really young, but that's what I remember. So I had such great role models and then Hillary being this incredible person who finally got me off the stick to do something political.

But what I've seen is that in Congress only 20 women in the Senate, only 18% in the House; corporate America, only 3% are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. But in my life experience, I've recognized that women's voices really do change the debate. Our perspective on what the issue actually is and what the possible solutions are so different. And if we have more women's voices being heard in each of these places, whether it's the PTA meeting or whether it's in the White House, you are going to raise more issues, you're going to have a different array of possibilities for how to figure out the problems. And I think America will be stronger for it.

WARREN: Oh, good for you.

GILLIBRAND: [laughter] she agrees!

WARREN: That sounds good. But let's pull this apart a little bit. So you grew up with these incredibly strong role models, just wonderful stories in here, about your mom and your grandmother, both of whom were called Polly.


WARREN: That must have been a little bit confusing.

GILLIBRAND: Well, my mother, when she was younger, her nickname was Penny, so that's how they differentiated. But she goes by Polly now.

WARREN: That was my mother's name, too.

GILLIBRAND: I saw that in your book.

WARREN: So we are the daughters of Pollys here.

GILLIBRAND: The thing I noticed about her book, that she liked her husband, because he was a tennis player, had nice legs. That's what I remember from her book! [laughter]

WARREN: We all pick out different things. I don't think that's what the bankers were focused on.

GILLIBRAND: No, no, not at all.

WARREN: But like a lot of us, your big life plans sometimes got detoured. I got a scholarship to go to college, then at 19 dropped out of school to get married. You made your decision about where to go to law school based on…

GILLIBRAND: On a boyfriend.

WARREN: … a boyfriend. I hope he was at least hunky. [laughter]

GILLIBRAND: Tennis player.

WARREN: That's right. Who you thought you were going to marry. Ended up not. So we were both really smart when we were 19, 20, 21. [laughter]

So I have a question. You went off to law school to follow this boy. It didn't work out. Do you regret your decision?

GILLIBRAND: No, not at all. I would never have gone to California. It was not something I would have picked for myself, but I got to see a whole other part of the country. I got to go to a big state school, UCLA; it was an incredible education. And I really got to see a diversity of experiences that were really important to me.

I did come back to New York right away. I wanted to get my bar exam done in New York, so I came back to New York and I started at a big law firm. But all of our experiences, it's what makes us who we are. One of the reasons why I have a chapter called, "From A to B with Detours," is because no one can plan out her life perfectly. You're never going to have the 20/20 vision of knowing how to get from A to B the fastest, but it's okay, because through each of your life experiences, you're going to learn something about yourself.

I also say it's okay to lose, it's okay to fail, because sometimes you're not going to make the best decisions, but through those failures you will learn how to be stronger, better; you'll know what your opponent is going to do next time. There are a lot of benefits from living life and not always getting it right.

WARREN: So you talk about what it was like to be in a big law firm. You've made it through school, you take the bar, and you talk about working your heart out to make partner. But you say you didn't place enough importance on personal relationships. So here's my question: Do you think a man would ever make that statement?

GILLIBRAND: No, he would have been playing golf with the boss. It wouldn't even have been a question. I tell these stories, particularly about what it's like to be a young professional woman, because for me that was the stage in my career where I didn't know what to do, I didn't know how to get from A to B. I didn't realize in a law firm setting having a sponsor is really important. I sort of understood mentors matter, but I just didn't really know.

I share a story about how I used to be asked to play tennis a lot. I was a tennis player at Dartmouth, and I'd be asked to play with the partners and I thought, “Sure, I'll go play, I'll fill in for your fourth.” I played for almost two years, but I thought, “Is this undermining me in some way? Is this making me look less than serious? Is this showing that I'm too fun-loving and not focused on the law, or am I working enough?” So eventually I just stopped playing, and I just told the partners, "Oh, I'm really playing squash these days, I really don't play," because I didn't know what to say. But looking back, if I was advising my 25year-old self, I would have said, “Of course you should do that. You can build a relationship and maybe one of those partners would become your sponsor. Maybe one of those guys would say, ‘You have tenacity, you work hard. I'm going to put you on my case.’ And then he could see my work.” And then you'd develop the kind of rapport that ultimately that partner would make sure you made partner.

But I didn't know that and a lot of times we don't. A lot of women oftentimes need that mentor. That's why I tell the stories about Hillary. Hillary gave me advice at certain parts of my career, and by the time I got elected to Congress, it added to a total of 90 minutes. But she made the difference because every time I had a tough question, I was able to call her and say, "Did you see my poll? What do you think?" And she just gave that five minutes of advice that was the difference. We can all be mentors to women who are maybe further down on the ladder than we are, and that little bit of life that you've already lived, that might be just the piece of advice she needs.

WARREN: So you make a very good point about mentors and how much both we need them and how much we can be the mentors. But I also hear another part to that story, and what I also hear you doing throughout this is questioning yourself.

GILLIBRAND: All the time.

WARREN: So there you were, you're out playing tennis, you're working your heart out, you're working till eleven o'clock every night, and yet constantly asking, “Am I doing this right? Am I doing this wrong?”


WARREN: Talk a little more about that.

GILLIBRAND: Well, one of the challenges that a lot of young women have is sometimes we doubt ourselves; we don't believe in ourselves or we think, “Oh, I'm not good enough, not smart enough.” So I talk about, ambition is not a dirty word. You should not only embrace what…

WARREN: Can we have an amen on that? [applause]

GILLIBRAND: Encouraging young women not only to embrace what their goals are, but be willing to fight for it. When I first ran for Congress – and this is a political story – nobody thought I had a chance of winning except for my mother. [laughter] It's often our moms. And for you, it was your dad; it was your dad who was always in your corner, which I loved. My dad, not so much. He nicknamed me Foghorn when I was little, and Loudmouth, which he eventually graciously shortened to Mouth, because I was just always arguing with him about everything.

But despite that, I had enough women role models that were always constantly cheering me on and encouraging me. So when I decided I wanted to run for office, I really had to own that ambition. It wasn't any meeting I took that the person I was asking for help would say, "Oh, good for you. Good thing you're running." Nobody thought I ever could win. So for that girl who says "I want to be a scientist" at age five, I want her to continue to aspire to be that scientist. There's a little girl in Henry's class named Irina, and they have to write their hopes and dreams at age five. And most of the girls did what we typically do: I want to meet a new friend. I want to have a picnic with my family. All these things about our community and the people we love. But only Irina had this ambition to become something, to become a professional, to be a scientist. And that's why I spend so much time helping women and girls focus on their career ambitions and their long-term goals in life because they need to be encouraged.

WARREN: So you were this incredibly hardworking kid. You say so yourself.


WARREN: That you wanted every gold star.

GILLIBRAND: I was a massive kiss-ass, yep. [laughter]

WARREN: That's right. There are pictures in here of your room.

GILLIBRAND: Yeah, very clean.

WARREN: You kept it all clean and everything was very precise. So you get out there, you really bust your tail. You go to college, you play sports, you go to law school, you did very well. You passed the New York bar which is a tough bar. You're in a big New York law firm, really making it happen. But then you have this light bulb moment that totally changes the direction of your life. So tell people about it.

GILLIBRAND: So I am sitting at my desk in New York City as a big lawyer at a big law firm. I wind up going to law school because my mom went to law school, and I loved that she could help families adopt their first child or buy their first home, the way she helped normal people navigate something complex. I really admired that. So I went off to law school and I start my big job in New York City, and I hadn't done anything political. The last time I did something political was when I was ten years old, helping my grandmother stuff envelopes and go door to door, helping her in her community.

I remember hearing about Hillary Clinton going to China. She was our First Lady. She went to Beijing. She gave her famous speech, "Women's Rights are Human Rights, and Human Rights are Women's Rights." And I was so upset with myself because I didn't know about the conference. I had been an Asian studies major at Dartmouth. I had learned Mandarin. I had studied in Beijing. And our First Lady was giving this powerful message from a stage in Beijing and I wasn't even part of it. I realized at that moment, I would only have been invited to that event if I was involved in politics. So I call a lady -- she's right over there, her name is Nancy Hoit, because her daughter Sarah Hoit was at Dartmouth with me, and we played tennis together – and I knew Nancy was involved with Al Gore.

I called up Nancy and said, "Nancy, I really want to get involved in politics. What do I do?" And she said, "Well, there's this new women's group in New York called the Women's Leadership Forum. You should join them." I said okay, so I called the lady in charge of it and said, "I'd like to join the Women's Leadership Forum." And she says, "Oh, we'd love to have you, but you have to write a check for $1,000." I'm like, "$1,000? That's a lot of money!" That was my rent check. So I was immediately worried that this was something beyond me. But I thought about it and I thought, the only advice I'd been given up until now is to do this, so I'm not going to disregard that advice, I'm going to do it. So I write the check and the first event that I get to go to as part of this group was an event that Hillary Clinton was going to speak at -- at this very fancy club in New York City.

I show up – I'm maybe 28, 29, 30, something like that, not very old – wearing my best suit, and I'm standing in the back. All the women are much older than I -- 10, 20, even 30 years older. But she says something at that meeting that totally shook me to the core. She said, "Decisions are being made every day in Washington, and if you are not part of those decisions and you don't like what they say, you have no one to blame but yourself." I thought, “Oh, my god, she's talking to me, she's talking to me! I'm going to have to do something about this!” And so I just felt like it was that moment when … I literally started to sweat. I'm sweating there, having this anxiety that she's telling me I have to run for office. I was so embarrassed; I couldn't even admit to myself at that age that I aspired to run for office.

So what I did feel comfortable doing is getting involved. I started to raise money for candidates all across our state and our city. I started working on campaigns. When she ran for Senate, I just jumped at the chance to volunteer for her and it made a difference because the more I got involved, the more confidence I got. And within about ten years is when I made my decision to run for office. I had to ask my lovely husband, who had just graduated from Columbia with a degree in venture capital, "How would you feel about moving to upstate New York to raise our family?" There's not a lot of venture capital in upstate New York. [laughter] But I married the right guy, and he said yes.

But the reason I tell that story and share these intimate details is to assure young women that they can have any ambition they want; there's nothing they cannot do if they put their mind to it and work really hard. And knowing that and believing that is different than just advising someone. Because even it was hard for me to know that, believe that, and then aspire for what I really dreamed to do.

WARREN: So Kirsten, you tell very candidly about how you got in the front door. You wrote a check, and you kept writing checks. You went to those luncheons that were fundraisers, and so there were lots of checks. And bless your heart, you could do that because…

GILLIBRAND: Because I was a young lawyer. I had plenty of disposable income.

WARREN: Exactly, you had plenty of disposable income. Talk for just a minute to young people who don't have that kind of money, but who have the passion. How do they get into it?

GILLIBRAND: Well, it depends what your passion is. You may think politics is the worst and you would never do anything in politics. So getting involved could be a whole host of things. So I'll tell you the political answer and then I'll tell you the non-political answer.

So someone who asks, "Can I get involved in politics," I say just volunteer on a campaign. I can't tell you how meaningful it is. That's the lesson my grandmother taught me. Their campaigns never had a dime. It was all about stuffing envelopes, going door to door, putting bumper stickers on cars, being heard. And these women over their life, no one gave them power. No one told them they were important. They earned it. Over 50 years, you couldn't get elected in Albany if you didn't have the blessing of my grandmother and her lady friends, because they did all the work. There was no one else who was going to get you elected.

On other issues though, you'd be so surprised how much power you have as an individual who cares about something. I've had two young women show up to my office, no appointment, saying, "We want to talk to the Senator." My staff made that happen, and we sat down. Then, of course, their story is heartbreaking. They were raped on college campuses. They reported the rape. No one believed them. They were blamed and then they were retaliated against by their universities. They took that moment of absolute horror and depression and refusal to be believed, and they turned it around. They became advocates. They've been to college campuses all across the United States. They've started a movement. They've been so good at their advocacy, we now have a draft piece of legislation, which we are now trying to push to actually change the rules about how this is dealt with on campus.

You can be involved in anything. Another story -- just one more because these are regular young women who would have no reason to be powerful. This young woman read one of my emails that I sent out to my supporters and said, "Help some women's organizations." Dress for Success is a great organization. It gives suits to women who want to get a job. It helps them write their résumé. It helps them learn how to interview and then monitors their progress for a year. This young girl sitting in Buffalo said, "Oh, what a great idea, I'm totally going to do that." She picks up all her suits. She lifts the phone, tries to call. There's no Dress for Success. So she calls the national chapter and says, "Is there one in Buffalo or any near Buffalo?" And they said, "No, there's not." Instead of just putting her clothes back in her closet, she founded the Dress for Success in Buffalo. That's incredible. So now she's helping hundreds of women start off their first jobs, just because she cared.

So the whole point of the book is it doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter where you're from. It doesn't matter what issue you care about. If you raise your voice, if you are heard on it, the world will be better off because of you.

WARREN: I like that. [applause]

So let's talk about some of the irritating parts. When I ran for the Senate, it bothered me when I would get the question, which I did a lot of times, especially at the beginning – what's it like to run as a woman? I was pretty sure my opponent was not getting the question, what's it like to run as a man? And you say the question that drives you crazy is, “Can a woman have it all?” So talk to me about this. How do you feel about these questions? And how do you handle those questions?

GILLIBRAND: Well, your book, you provided the best role model ever in terms of how you can be a great mom and do your job in the way you do. You do need help; no one's saying you don't. But the reason why I hate the question is because it's framed as "having it all." Well, what are we actually having? Are we having a party? Are we having a slice of pie? What are we having? We're not having anything. In fact, women are doing it all and have been doing it all for a very, very long time. [applause/cheers]

I share anecdotal stories about my juggle, because my struggles are common: How do you feed your kids breakfast, make the school lunch, find the soccer uniform, and get yourself in some passable shape and out the door at eight? It's hard for every mom, any working parent.

But I also raise the bigger and broader issues of what about all those women who have no flexibility? No support on their job? Not a loving husband who will unload the dishwasher? Or have a family member come and help care for your children when you're totally stressed out. What about all those women who have low-wage jobs who have no sick days, who have no vacation days, who, if their child is sick, or if their informal caregiver's sick and have to miss work? They will either get fired for missing work that day, or they certainly will never be eligible to be promoted. And we call that dynamic the sticky floor.

So the real challenges we need to debate is not just breaking the glass ceiling, which is important, but also, how do we make sure all women have a chance to rise? And that's a lot of support. It means affordable daycare and universal pre-K. It means paid leave. We're the only industrialized country in the world – in the world – that doesn't have paid leave. Afghanistan and Pakistan have more leave than we do in this country, and those are not paradigms of women's rights.

So we have a long way to go in terms of just supporting women and families in the workplace. I talk a lot about that as well, because we should be really focusing this debate on how we help all women. Women are graduating with more than half the college degrees, more than half the advanced degrees. We have a lot of talent, we have a lot to offer. I like the way Geraldine Ferraro said it in her convention speech – it's not what America can do for women, it's what women can do for America. [applause]

WARREN: Exactly right. Let's hear a little more of the personal part of this, Kirsten. You talk about in your book, you have two young sons. They are with you in Washington. Your husband is in New York during the week. You manage your full Senate schedule without a nanny and pull it all together. I have to say, that sounds a little like Superwoman. So how are you pulling this off?

GILLIBRAND: My job, unlike most working women's jobs, I have a lot of flexibility. So if one of my kids is sick, I can bring them to the office with me. If I have to…

WARREN: So that's why there's been all those colds running around the Senate. [laughter]

GILLIBRAND: Pretty much, yeah.

WARREN: We've been wondering about that. Okay.

GILLIBRAND: So if I have to bring them to the office, I can. I can also set my schedule, so I can say I'm not doing any meetings before seven. We have a big breakfast circuit in Washington. I don't usually participate in it. I will bring my kids to school, and their drop-off time is 8:20. So I can get to the office closer to nine, or if I go to the gym, maybe 9:30. I build my schedule around my needs. But it does get funny, actually. So between five and seven, I try not to do meetings either, so I can pick them up from school, make them dinner, get them to their relevant soccer practice, baseball practice, piano lesson, whatever it happens to be that day.

But the funniest thing is when we have votes during that time. Because that's the one thing where I have no flexibility. I've got to vote. I've got to vote, I've got to vote. So I bring Henry and Theo with me. And it's funny because my lovely colleagues, they're like their grandchildren and they don't know what quite to say because they're like, "Hmm, what are these children doing here?" But they're very nice, they're very supportive. But I have nowhere to put them during a vote where I can keep my eye on them, which is fine for a ten-year-old, because a ten-year-old will sit there and play with an iPad and be very responsible. I would not say that so much when my youngest, Henry, was four and five and six. He could wander off.

So we finally got permission, which … You're not allowed to have anybody except for a Senator approach these Senate doors where you go in. So I got permission to hold Henry's hand to get to the door, and I can lean in and vote. I got yelled at it for last week, so the solution is still not perfect.

WARREN: Are you kidding me?

GILLIBRAND: Yeah, because not all the aides were told. So, "He's not allowed, he's not allowed!" I was like, “Okay, he's going to sit in your chair then, right here, while I go vote.” So that worked out.

WARREN: But that does raise the point about how in many ways the deck is still stacked against younger women who have families in all kinds of workplaces. And you've gotten a lot of media attention – in fact, Tom was just talking about it – about the comments that our colleagues have made about you that are just highly inappropriate.

GILLIBRAND: Ridiculous. So I'll tell you the funniest one, because this is funny. After I got elected in 2006, I got pregnant that year. So when you're a pregnant Congresswoman, it's a rare thing. [laughter] Yeah, it's very rare.

When I had Henry, I was only the sixth woman in the history of America to be a pregnant Congressman, so I’m out to here. I was not a small pregnant lady; I was a very lovely pregnant lady. So I am out to here and one of these Southern Congressmen, who I know well and like, he just walks up to me and he puts his arm around me and said, "Kirsten" – and I'm like eight months pregnant – "Kirsten, you're even pretty when you're fat." [laughter] I was like, I'm not fat, I'm pregnant! Like, you can't say that to me! And you just smile and wonder what planet are these guys from.

But I did not take offense at that moment. But some of these comments are just so outrageous and crazy. But the reason why I took the time to include my personal stories is because they're illustrations of the broader challenges. These are not comments that women don't get at the workplace in all jobs, in all industries, at all levels.

As a person at my stage of career, it's not hurtful, it doesn't bother me, it doesn't affect me. These aren't my bosses, they're colleagues. But it really affects you when you're younger. And I have to tell you, when you're more junior – and I include the story of being a young lawyer in the law firm, and I can't tell you how crushing it was when I worked months and months and months on a very tough case – canceled vacation, canceled weekends, really put my all into a case to do a good job – and at the celebratory dinner, the partner I was working for said, "I want to congratulate Kirsten for her hard work, but don't you just love her haircut? Doesn't she look great?" My jaw drops because I'm like, “Are you kidding me? You're talking about how I look when you should be talking about my job performance?” It was a slap in the face. It was a punch in the gut. Because you just were reduced to how you look when your whole job is about doing a good job for your client.

WARREN: So how do we change this?

GILLIBRAND: Well, we have to be the partners in the law firms, change the climate and make sure it doesn't happen. [applause] It takes a lot of us. It also takes elevating the debate. It's really important that we have these conversations because for the unwitting person who makes these stupid comments, they need to know that these aren't okay. You really are undermining that young woman's self-confidence. You're reducing her to her looks, not her performance, and that hurts her ability to be confident, to push ahead. I want the young women who choose to read this book to push ahead and say, “This doesn't define me. I'm going to not only become partner some day, but I'm going to run this law firm. I'm going to run this company. I'm going to be in charge and I'm going to make sure no one treats others that way.”

Sometimes you don't have the ability to respond at the moment because he's your boss, or it would probably diminish you in some way or hurt your career chances. Every woman will make her own judgments about what to do in that moment; that is her choice, her decision. But we have to change the rules of the road. And if more women become elevated into these positions of power and decision making, it will happen less. [applause]

WARREN: Talk about the deck being stacked against you. You talk about in your book how when you got to the Senate, you wanted to lead the charge on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, an issue you felt very passionately about. But the White House told you they wanted someone more senior to be in charge. Tell us a little about that fight, and do you wish you hadn't backed down on that one?

GILLIBRAND: No. The issue of Don't Ask, Don't Tell came to me when – and it's so poignant that we're here because Ted Kennedy was our greatest champion on gay rights.

WARREN: Yes, he was. [applause]

GILLIBRAND: When I was first appointed to the Senate, he had been diagnosed with brain cancer and so we were all worried and praying, and it was a very tough time in the Senate. A friend of mine, a woman who had a client, Lieutenant Dan Choi, called me and said, "Can you meet with my client Dan about gay rights in the military?" I said I'd be delighted. So I set up the meeting and I meet with him. Then he tells me a story about how he joined the military because he believes in it. He believes in its honesty, its integrity, its call to action. He performs extremely well, gets all these levels of decoration and responsibility, and he falls in love. And when he fell in love, his world changed. He wanted everyone to know the man he loved and how important it was, but he would have to be silent. He couldn't share with anybody whom he loved and what was important to him.

I looked into it and realized Ted was our biggest champion and no one was carrying the bill right now. So I wrote a bill and I started talking to my colleagues, and I found I had far more support than I thought I did, and support in really high places. Harry Reid said, "Kirsten, I'm with you. I will do whatever it takes to get that policy repealed." He writes a letter to President Obama and says, "We want this included in your agenda." I talked to Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee and he says, "Kirsten, I'm with you." And I said, "Will you hold a hearing?" And he said, "Yes, I will hold the first hearing ever on the policy in 16 years."

We established we'd lost 13,000 personnel, more than 10% of our foreign language speakers. We were really undermining military readiness. So I'd written this bill. I'm really excited to drop it and start. I'm talking to the Republicans who I think will be with us, like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. And we get a call from the White House and they're like, "Kirsten, we don't want you to drop your bill." I was like why? And this wasn't to me, this was through staff. President Obama did not call me and say, "Kirsten, you can't do this." But it was clear to me that they really cared about it and they thought, "You're new. We don't know if you're going to be good at this job. We have no idea if you can get this done. The person we really want to lead is Joe Lieberman, because he is senior" – I wasn't even on Armed Services at the time – "he's on Armed Services and we think he'll be the right political messenger because he's very much seen as an independent and a moderate on national security."

I thought long and hard about it and I realized you know what? It's not about me. I don't have to have my name on this bill. I do not have to be in charge of this bill. I can fight like heck to make sure it gets passed and you bet your bottom dollar I sure did. Maybe my job became the biggest nudge in the Senate, but I was okay with that because that was the job I needed to play.

And that is such an important thing to learn in service. Sometimes you're not going to get the gold stars. Sometimes you're not going to get the A: somebody else is going to get that. But it doesn't matter because if you believe in it, you can fight for it and change the outcome. I realized there was an opportunity here. My name wouldn't be first, but I didn’t care; I believed so strongly in the need for repeal.

So my job for a couple months was to convince Joe, who winded up not only being the best champion in the world, but he really did bring people to the table. As soon as Joe signed on, Susan Collins joined on as the lead and really good things began to happen. My job became telling stories. I told the stories of the men and women who were suffering under this policy. We launched an online community where anybody could tell their story. That made a difference because when you're actually trying to change something, whether it's in Washington or in your PTA meeting, or even at your Girl Scout troop. It's when real stories, when real people are the reason why you're fighting, and it made a difference.

WARREN: So speaking of making a difference, we've got some questions in from the audience that have been handed to me. Someone has asked, “Would you please comment on the NFL scandal and what should happen to Commissioner Goodell.” What are your views on that, Kirsten?

GILLIBRAND: Well, I think the NFL has handled this so disgracefully, so poorly. I can't imagine a worse … First of all, all the facts were known. This was not a question that was being debated. The player said, "I beat my wife and that's a picture of me pulling her out off the elevator unconscious."

WARREN: Unconscious: let's just underline that.

GILLIBRAND: So there were no facts in dispute in this case. And for him to get a slap on the wrist, a two-game suspension, is outrageous. So I think the NFL handled this horribly. And if you look at the history of the NFL and other professional sports, they are horrible when it comes to violence against women and how they treat their players or star players.

What it really is to me is this larger problem, which we fight against in sexual assault in the military and sexual assault on college campuses, where institutions are protecting their favorite person. So whether it's their favorite football star, whether it's their favorite solider -- whatever it is -- there is this institutional effort to protect their own self-interest. It's a fundamental bias. And when you have that bias, you cannot be objective and justice isn't even possible. That's a challenge we have in the military, where these commanders may well be perpetrators, or within the chain of command. But the commanders hold all the cards and they make sure it stays that way so that justice often is not possible, because they have biases. They have, as I said, asses to cover and people to protect and it's a real problem.

Same thing true with college campuses. You have administrators who are poorly trained, who don't want any rape stories to get out that might hurt their recruiting. When, in fact, they should be putting their students first and making sure their schools are safe and making sure that a woman or man who is assaulted gets justice.

So I think it was terrible. Now, in terms of the question about Goodell, my first statement on it was, he needs to lead this reform and he needs to get it right, and he needs to use his position to make sure there's a zero tolerance. But now there's a debate about when he knew and if he was truthful to the American people. If he's lied about this, then he has to step down. He won't have the legitimacy to lead the reform that's frankly really needed. [applause]

WARREN: So people have submitted these questions separately, but here's one that's a powerful follow-on to that. Since the structures here themselves, the systems are conceived by men – healthcare, law, banks, academy, government – we might add the NFL – do you really see that more women's involvement in inherently patriarchal structures can truly shift the values culturally? This is a question you only get in Boston. [laughter] Go Boston! [applause]

GILLIBRAND: My answer is it's the only thing that really can. I truly mean that. If you had 51% of women in Congress, do you think we would have spent the last two Congresses debating whether women should have access to affordable contraception? [applause] No! It wouldn't happen. We would have had a very different agenda. We would have been talking about all the issues American families care about -- from national security, to the economy, to small businesses. Everything.

When women have a seat at the table, the discussion, the substance shifts. I'll give you one example, a Congressional example. When I was first elected in 2006, I was put on the Armed Services Committee by Speaker Pelosi. She put five women on the committee that year who were new, and it shifted the debate. We were having hearings on military readiness, and our male colleagues focused on what they typically focus on – how many ships, how many aircraft, how many guns, all equipment, which is legitimate and important. But the women, we brought in a whole other level of debate of what's military readiness. I remember Gabby Giffords saying, "The doctor in my district, in my base, said that you're sending 70% of our men and women back into combat who are not mentally able to do this job. Why are you doing that?" And I amplified her questions and said, "I've seen the statistics. The divorce rate, the domestic violence rate and the suicide rate are higher than they've ever been in the history of America. Are you dealing with PTSD? What supports do you have for our troops?"

What you had in that conversation was a wider range of issues being raised and a wider range of solutions being offered, and that's good for America. So I really believe if you had more … Here's the corporate example: this one's funny, you'll like this. If one woman is on a corporate board, that company is 40% less likely to have to restate their earnings. Think about that. [laughter] Think about that! Think about that! [applause]

WARREN: One woman.

GILLIBRAND: So one woman alone. And if you get three, that's what we call the tipping point. Things really change. But it even shows in corporate America. When women are on these corporate boards, when you have that benefit of diversity of views and viewpoints, better returns on investment, better returns on equity. These companies do better. So we should want that in every decision-making table, all across America and all across the world, because we would have different outcomes.

WARREN: Someone asks here, “How do you deal with the ethics of being a politician? You've talked about the advocacy, the things you get out and fight for. But how about ethical challenges? Can we talk about those?”

GILLIBRAND: For me, the reason why I do this job is because I really do believe I can make a difference. I share a little bit of my faith in the book, some personal stories, when I feel most down or most inadequate or most unable. For those of you who aren't religious and who don't know the story, it's a pretty easy example. It's about Queen Esther. She's a lady who is picked out of obscurity to be the King's wife. It was a time in history when she was Jewish and her husband didn't know it, and there was a plot at the time to kill all the Jews. So her uncle comes to her and says, "You really have to do something about this. You may well have been placed there at this time for a reason. And if you don't do what you need to do, your family will be killed. The Jews will certainly suffer. But help will come from somewhere else." At the time she has to make this tough decision: "How do I help the Jews when I'm not even allowed to go see my husband unless I have an appointment, and I can't just ask for an appointment." So she decides to risk it and just goes and sees her husband and he doesn't kill her, he lets her talk, which is nice, perfectly nice, back then. [laughter]

WARREN: Whoo hoo!

GILLIBRAND: Yeah, who would guess? So she's able to deliver his message very creatively, very effectively, and she saves the Jews at the time. But that story's meaningful to me, because I think it speaks to all of us, that all of us are placed where we are at any given time in history, in your community, in your family, because you can make a difference. There's an opportunity that's inherent in all of us, wherever we are, at whatever time. I feel like my job in the US Senate is to be the voice for the voiceless; to be the person who will take on lost causes; to be the person who will do something impossible, like stand up to the entire Department of Defense because if I don't stand up, maybe nobody does.

I think Elizabeth is a perfect example of it. I love the chapter about when she was asked to run, and she said, "I don't want to be a politician. I don't want to go to the Senate. I do not want to do that." She had no interest in being an elected leader. But she was told, "Elizabeth, if you don't do this now, nobody can do what you can do. No one will fight for what you care about. No one has the knowledge and the passion that you do to fight for every person, every middle class family, everybody who's being screwed."

So Elizabeth was the perfect person at that perfect time. And she did it; she did something that was important and transformative. Because you had the courage to just do the one thing you were being asked to do that no one else could have done. So you're our Queen Esther! [applause]

I love that soul-searching moment, I really do. I can see her. I don't know Elizabeth that well, but we've gotten to serve the last couple of years, and Elizabeth is totally driven by service. I can see somebody guilting her, saying "You really need to this. If you don't do this, then you're letting us all down. "And you're saying, "Oh, you're right, I'd be letting them down!" [laughter] "I've got to do this!" And then growing in confidence to get some miracle done and it was amazing.

WARREN: Aw. So talk just for a minute … [laughter]

GILLIBRAND: She's very selfless. She's a selfless woman.

WARREN: Enough, enough.


WARREN: So talk just for a minute about Citizens United. Here we are, we're in public office. We're drawn to it because we do, both of us -- and I've watched you do this – fight for people who don't have someone to fight for them. You want to fight for those who don't have armies of lobbyists.

GILLIBRAND: Yeah, fighting for food stamps, take on a losing battle. Because who's going to advocate for more food for the poor? The people who are struggling, working two jobs at a time aren't going to come to Washington. And do they have lobbyists? Not a lot.

WARREN: Not a lot. So now we've got a world with Citizens United, effectively…

GILLIBRAND: Unlimited spending.

WARREN: …losing the limits on any kind of campaign spending, the money that people spend to put out these armies of lobbyists. What going to happen to us, Kirsten?

GILLIBRAND: Well, again, if we had more women in politics, one of the first things we would do is publicly funded elections, I can guarantee you. [applause] Ask the woman sitting next to you when this is over, "Would you ever run for office?" Her first answer is almost always, "Are you kidding me? Never. Why would I do that? Why would I put my name out there? Why would I take on all those negative attacks? I would never do that to my family, I would never do that to my kids."

We are averse to the aggressiveness, the nastiness and all the negative ads that are in politics. It's one off the main reasons why women don't run for office because they don't like it; they don't like the landscape. We didn't create the rules and we don't like the rules that you're being asked to follow, the rules of this game. So we often say, "I'm not playing, I'm not doing it."

So I think it is a necessity, because what money and politics does, it has a long-term corrosive effect. What a typical New Yorker will say is, "Well, if someone wrote you a check for $1000, what did they buy for that? They're definitely getting something." So it's the appearance of money and the appearance of impartiality, that if somebody gives you money that somehow you're no longer going to represent the values of the people of the state who elected you; you're going to represent the values of the special interests. It's corrosive. And when you have unlimited spending with no disclosure, it's even more corrosive. So when Elizabeth and I file our forms, you know every donor we have and how much they gave. You know who they are, where they're from, even their address. Bizarrely, but you do.

But for these ads, because this Supreme Court, which I believe is not representative of jurisprudence, defined, number one, that corporations have the same free speech rights as individuals. I don't think that's a foregone conclusion. That's just the conclusion of this particular court. Second, that money is speech. Again, I don't think that's a foregone conclusion.

Under a different court, which is one of the reasons why I think the next Presidential election is so important, and we have to elect a Democrat, is because if you have a right-leaning court, they find these conclusions. We should have a decision that says money is not speech and corporations are not people. [applause] Then we could end this constant flow of money.

WARREN: I would only add that before you jump to 2016, remember that in 2014 we've got a battle going on in the Senate.

GILLIBRAND: To hold the balance of power, and it is so important. For those of you who aren't involved in politics, please get involved. Just pick one person you like – Elizabeth Warren is your Senator – one person you like, anywhere in the country that you believe in what he or she stands for, and help them. You can't underestimate how much just even $5 makes a difference, and how much knocking on a few doors makes a difference. If you're willing to travel, there are a lot of at-risk seats that could use some doorknockers.

WARREN: So I've got one more question here that someone asks: “Do you get frustrated with the – and now the person has crossed out – you could have a long list of things you might get frustrated with, but they finally settled on Republicans' refusal to compromise.” [laughter] What do you say?

GILLIBRAND: There are a lot of places where there should be much more common ground than there is. And it's often the silly season of campaigns that unfortunately leave that common sense at the door. But I do find an exception to that, I must say, and it's among the women. Elizabeth and I have this quarterly dinner with all the women Senators, and we get to know each other as friends, as women, as mothers, as daughters, as sisters. It's really important because when I'm trying to pass a piece of legislation, those Senators know me well, and they want me to be successful and want to help, whether they're Democrat or Republican. So an issue so important like banning insider trading by members of Congress, of course Susan Collins says, "I'll help you with that," because it's common sense. The same thing was true, Susan is there for me when we were repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Lisa Murkowski and Olympia Snowe were there for me when we were trying to get the 9/11 health bill passed. On the sexual assault of women in the military, 20 of 20 women either authored part of a bill or cosponsored a bill to reform that. We got about a dozen reforms finished. Even the last reform that was the boldest -- to take the decision making out of the chain of command -- I had 17 out of 20 of the women.

WARREN: Yes, you did.

GILLIBRAND: That is mass consensus. [applause] Women aren't a monolith. We don't agree on everything. But often time we want to find common ground, and that is something you don't see enough of in Washington. So if we can elect more women, we can change the tone, change the nature, and hopefully have more who are interested in getting things done as opposed to scoring political points.

WARREN: Your mouth to God's ears. [applause] I'm going to let Kirsten have the last word on this. It's a book that is very much like this interview, a book full of enthusiasm and energy and optimism, and yet a book that calls it out when you don't like what you see. So let me give you the last word here, to be able to say, if you just get to take away one message from this book, what is it, Kirsten?

GILLIBRAND: The most important message of this book is that your voice matters, it truly does. We doubt ourselves a lot. We sometimes think someone's going to be doing that, someone will be in charge, they'll be able to get it right. No, actually, no one's going to get it right, they won't be in charge, and they won't actually have your views. So please be heard. It doesn't matter where. It really doesn't matter what circle you're talking about, what platform you're talking from. You have no idea how powerful you can be, how many minds you can change, and how much you can change the world until you raise your voice.

WARREN: Aw, Kirsten, fabulous!

GILLIBRAND: Thank you. [applause]

Speech from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pP2zX4asKM.