In an interview with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on Monday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer asked the New York Democrat about accusations in her new memoir of male congressional colleagues making sexist remarks to her and voiced his disappointment that she had not "named names" [Listen to the audio]:
A senator, this is a guy you admire, squeezed your waist from behind and told you not to lose too much weight because he likes his girls chubby. And you didn't name names. Why?...You also write in the book, "Comments about appearance belittle women professionally. We need to start to change it by calling out undercutting remarks and educating our peers." Why didn't you call them out?
Gillibrand dodged on why she wouldn't identify the offenders, prompting Lauer to wonder: "If you had named names, did you fear a backlash? You know how things work in Washington, in politics, that behind the scenes you would have been cut off at the knees?"
She responded: "Not at all....it's not about the specifics of any one insult throughout anytime in my career. It's about elevating the conversation so women can understand, these are challenges they're facing in the workplace that are real."
Near the end of the segment, Lauer speculated that Gillibrand would one day run for president: "Some people think this book is a way of reintroducing yourself to the public in preparation for a run for the White House. You leave the door open to that?"
Gillbrand replied: "No. I'm supporting Hillary Clinton, 2016. I think she's going to be a great candidate and I really admire her." Lauer followed up: "I wasn't referring to 2016, Senator. I was referring beyond 2016."
When excerpts were first released from Gillibrand's book, CBS This Morning immediately seized on the claims without questioning the anonymous quotes.
Here is a full transcript of Lauer's September 8 interview with Gillibrand:
8:34 AM ET
MATT LAUER: New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is on a mission to recruit more women into politics. She's also out with a brand new memoir, Off the Sidelines, pulling back the curtain on the challenges she's faced as only the sixth woman to give birth while serving in Congress. A book that's making headlines for revealing the comments made to her by several male colleagues. Senator, good morning, it's good to see you.
KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: Good morning, Matt.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: "Off the Sidelines"; Sen. Gillibrand Looks at Sexism & The Senate]
LAUER: Book wasn't even out and you're in the headlines already because of some of what you've written about your colleagues and their comments to you during and after your pregnancy. Some examples, one House member said, quote, "Good thing you're working out because you wouldn't want to get porky." Another colleague had the audacity to say, "You're even pretty when you're fat." And a senator, this is a guy you admire, squeezed your waist from behind and told you not to lose too much weight because he likes his girls chubby. And you didn't name names. Why?
GILLIBRAND: Because it's about these challenges we all face. I use these illustrations to show these are challenges women face in the workplace in every career, in every profession. And I want to create a conversation with women about the issues they care about.
LAUER: Yeah, but you write in the book that when you heard these comments you wanted to explode. And you would have liked to have thrown some expletives out. You also write in the book, "Comments about appearance belittle women professionally. We need to start to change it by calling out undercutting remarks and educating our peers." Why didn't you call them out?
GILLIBRAND: Well, you know, when you're pregnant, Matt, out to here and someone says, "You're even pretty when you're fat," it's crazy for someone to equate pregnancy with being fat. And it was outrageous, but those comments weren't the worst. The worst were after I had the baby. The worst were when I'm just being appointed to be senator and I'm told by labor leaders and advisers that I can't win a statewide race being heavy. I was literally told, "You need to be beautiful again to win a statewide race."
LAUER: If you had named names, did you fear a backlash? You know how things work in Washington, in politics...
GILLIBRAND: Not at all.
LAUER: ...that behind the scenes you would have been cut off at the knees?
GILLIBRAND: Yeah, it's not about the specifics of any one insult throughout anytime in my career. It's about elevating the conversation so women can understand, these are challenges they're facing in the workplace that are real. And we have to be able to talk about it, to have a national conversation about how women are treated and whether they're supported in the workplace.
LAUER: Can I say that in reading sections of this book, I don't remember a member of Congress or the Senate, a woman, being so candid about some of the things you write in this book. You really pull no punches. You talk a lot about work-life balance. You don't like the question about, "Can women have it all?"
GILLIBRAND: "Have it all," yup.
LAUER: You prefer, "Can they do it all?"
LAUER: And you admit in this book that at times in your life, with your marriage and your kids, it's been really hard.
GILLIBRAND: Well, it's hard for everybody, Matt. And you know, my struggles – I have it easy compared to a lot of working moms. You know, my struggles are real. And so, just getting the breakfast fed to the kids, making their lunch, getting them out the door on time, getting them to school, picking them up.
You know, I was about to go on a national Fox News interview and I get a call from the school and they say, "Theo can't breathe." I can't tell you, as a mom...
LAUER: Your son, right.
GILLIBRAND: ...yeah, you just drop everything and you race to meet the needs.
But imagine the woman who has no flexibility in her job. Imagine the woman who's stuck on a work site or a woman who's, you know, cleaning these beautiful sets tonight. She has no flexibility. And so my stories, while they are universal and really do share the commonality of our struggles, I have such a different life than a lot of folks because I have some flexibility. And so what the book's about is, you know, asking women to fight for the things that would make their lives better so we can see their full potential in the workplace.
LAUER: Couple of quick points. Some people think this book is a way of reintroducing yourself to the public in preparation for a run for the White House. You leave the door open to that?
GILLIBRAND: No. I'm supporting Hillary Clinton, 2016. I think she's going to be a great candidate and I really admire her. And as I tell in the book, you know, Hillary was one of my role models. When I saw her give that speech in China and she says, "Women's rights are human rights," I thought, "Gosh, I'm not doing anything. I'm just pushing paper in a big law firm. I'm not fighting for others, I'm not making a difference."
And I remember going to my first political meeting and standing in the back of the room, and she's talking to a room full of women and she says, "If you're not participating in politics, decisions are going to be made every day and if you're not part of those decisions you may not like what they decide." And that's what-
LAUER: She said your heart has to be in it also. I wasn't referring to 2016, Senator. I was referring beyond 2016.
GILLIBRAND: No. I feel so blessed I get to do the job I can do. And as you see in my book, I can take on this issue of sexual assault in the military or I can fight for our 9/11 heroes. And the issues that I can talk about and create a national debate. We're talking a lot about sexual assault on college campuses right now. Women's voices need to be heard. And if I could be part of that, if I could be part of telling their stories, I can change outcomes.
And the book's all about asking women to be heard because we only have 20 women in the Senate, 18% in the House. And whether you're talking about a PTA meeting or your local community, when women express how they feel about things, when they tell their personal views, it changes the outcomes. And that's why it's, "Raise Your Voice, Change the World," because women can make the difference.
LAUER: And once again the book is called Off the Sidelines. Senator, it's always good to see you.
GILLIBRAND: Thank you, Matt.
LAUER: Thank you very much.