On Sunday, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) appeared on CNN’s "State of the Union" with Jake Tapper to discuss, among other things, her bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
During the nearly ten minute segment, Tapper and Gillibrand had the following exchange about President Trump’s allegedly "racist" immigration policies:
TAPPER: All right. You have said Trump's immigration positions are racist. That's the word you used — racist.
Now, as you know, you were more conservative early on in your career on immigration. CNN's KFILE is out with a new report this week on your 2008 campaign website and a mailer sent from your congressional office back then, a long time ago, but still in your public life.
Take a look. You said you were a "firm opponent" of government "amnesty to illegal aliens." You said English should be "the official language of the United States." You called for expediting deportation of undocumented immigrants. I know you have very different positions today.
TAPPER: But, let me ask you, if Trump's immigration positions are racist, were they racist when you held some of those positions as well?
GILLIBRAND: They certainly weren't empathetic, and they weren't kind, and I did not think about suffering in other people's lives.
And one thing I did ten years ago, when I became senator and was going to represent twenty million people across our state, I recognized that a lot of places in my state were different, and I needed to understand what those constituents needed, too. And so I took the time.
I went down to Brooklyn. I met with Nydia Velazquez, who has been a leader fighting for families for a long time, and I listened, and I realized that things I had said were wrong. I was not caring about others; I was not fighting for other peoples’ kids the same way I was fighting for my own. And I was wrong to feel that way. And so I just said, "I'm not going to stand by and do nothing for families that are suffering in my state and in my communities."
TAPPER: So, what's the difference, though, just help me understand, between your previous positions, which you characterize as wrong and not empathetic, and President Trump's positions today that you call racist?
GILLIBRAND: So, what President Trump is doing is creating fear and division and a darkness across this country that I have never seen before.
One of the reasons I'm running for president, Jake, is because we have to restore that integrity to our presidency, to this country. We have always cared about others. We have always believed in the golden rule.
And what President Trump is doing is destroying the moral fabric of what this country stands for. We have the Statue of Liberty in our New York Harbor. She stands for a beacon of light and hope for others who need us. Send us your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We have never been afraid of immigrants. We have never been afraid of refugees and asylum-seekers.
This president has sown fear and division that just makes us weaker. And so I think what he's done is so horrible and so mean-spirited, that I am nothing like him and never will be because my values haven't changed.
In February 2018, Gillibrand appeared on "60 Minutes," where she was asked by Sharyn Alfonsi about her prior positions on immigration:
ALFONSI: So, can you understand President Trump’s position on immigration since you were there?
GILLIBRAND: No, no, I think his positions are racist.
There is a clear distinction between the following ideas — a person is racist; a particular political position is racist. Gillibrand said that the president’s "positions" on immigration are racist. While a person can change, the moral characteristics of a political policy are immutable.
If opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants is a racist policy position in 2019, it has always been a racist policy position. In 2008, Gillibrand’s website stated that the senator was "a firm opponent of any proposal that would give amnesty to illegal aliens."
Aside from opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants, Gillibrand supported many of the policies that she has since deemed "racist" under President Trump.