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Transcript: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on "Face the Nation," November 21, 2021

The following is a transcript of an interview with New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand that aired Sunday, November 21, 2021, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: And joining us now is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, good morning to you. Senator, thank you for being here. 

SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): Good morning. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, I want to get to some of the agenda items. The Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, was with us last week, and she said it doesn't look like paid leave is going to make it into the final Build Back Better bill. That's due to Sen. Joe Manchin's opposition. How can you change his mind?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: Well, Joe Manchin has come a long way on paid leave. If I've been talking to him now for about three weeks on the topic and in the beginning of our conversations, he didn't know a lot about paid leave, and he's come forward with a lot of really smart questions about how would you build it? What would it look like? He really wants it to be an earned benefit, something that is self-sustaining and so do I. And he really wants something that will last for generations. So, I'm optimistic that Sen. Manchin and I can continue to talk about ways to put paid leave in this bill because long term, he wants it to be something that's bipartisan. But I've looked and I've talked to all the Republicans who are interested in paid leave, and none of them have an interest in what he wants to do, which is this earned benefit idea. So, I think Sen. Manchin and I can come together, hopefully in the next couple of weeks on something that could be included in this package. That would be a democratic only proposal that we could start with something- something modest perhaps that we can start paid leave with and then work long term with those Republicans on a bigger idea to get to the grand idea of full 12 week paid leave for all life events for all people when they need to meet with family need, whether it's a new baby or an ill loved one or a dying parent.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So modest, you mean four weeks?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: I'd be grateful if we could meet the House proposal. I think that would be a great start to have universal paid leave for all people, all workers, and we know paid leave helps people get back to work. We know if it's parental leave, parents, mothers are 40% more likely to get back to work if they have paid leave, which goes to Sen. Manchin's concerned that he wants to strengthen our social safety nets. He wants to strengthen Social Security. That's what paid leave does. It gets people back to work. It allows people to stay in the workforce even when there's a family emergency. If you don't have paid leave and there's a family emergency, sometimes your only recourse is quitting. If you have to quit your job, getting rehired is very difficult. So, if your main concern is strengthening social safety nets like Social Security, paid leave is one of the solutions. And so, I'm hopeful that if I can use the next three weeks to really impress upon Sen. Manchin that some things can only be done with Democrats only, that now is the only time to do that, perhaps in the next decade.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, the proposal, as it stands now, it would cost 200 billion over 10 years. Sen. Manchin has also said he's worried about Social Security, and it's the same. When you say earned benefit, how- how would you actually make this happen?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: So, I want to work with Sen. Manchin on some ideas he has. He likes employer-employee contribution systems. A lot of states around the country already have that through unemployment insurance, through disability insurance. There's ways we might be able to create this program--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --Like the state of New York.

SEN. GILLIBRAND: Correct, and what Sen. Manchin is doing right now is he's approving every aspect of the Build Back Better proposal about how to pay for it. So, he's in the driver's seat on how to pay for these proposals. And so, I'm just hopeful that he can remain open minded to include some provisions for paid leave because this is the only moment to get paid leave done. The bipartisan ideas you have- he has, they will not come to fruition with the Republican senators that are interested in pay leave today because they don't. They don't they aren't interested today in a universal plan. That's an earned benefit because I've spoken to them--

MARGARET BRENNAN: For you-

SEN. GILLIBRAND: --So that's why I think for Senator Manchin, now is the time if he has a vision for what he wants to do. Putting in this demo only proposal is the only opportunity in my- in my opinion.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And would love to have him come on and answer some of the questions you're raising right now about how to do that. One of the other sticking points is the reduction in taxes for high earners, and that would definitely be of interest to your voters in New York, raising the cap on the so-called SALT deduction, state and local taxes. Is that something that for you needs to stay in this?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: So for Sen. Schumer and I and the senators from these states that have very high local and state taxes like New York, New Jersey, California, when President Trump put forward his $1.5 trillion tax cuts. He really did it in a way that disproportionately harmed these large states.

MARGARET BRENNAN: He brought the cap down to 10,000. 

SEN. GILLIBRAND: He did and so that hurt a lot of middle class- middle class families in New York, particularly in places like Westchester and Long Island, where a firefighter and a teacher would have been harmed by that deduction being reduced to such a low cap. And so, what we're trying to do is restore that cap to covering all middle-class wage earners, and the House came up with a compromise to have that cap be at $80,000. We hope to retain that in the Senate.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about some of the numbers we showed viewers at the beginning of this program regarding concerns about the economy and the president. The majority of the infrastructure bill doesn't go into effect until 2023, 2024. Build Back Better, as we know, we're talking about it, it's not a done deal. So, what- what is the message you have for how to fix the economy now and how to tell voters that if they stick with Democrats, if they stick with unified government, that you can actually deliver on this? Because you don't have much time before those midterm races.

SEN. GILLIBRAND: We are doing everything to lower costs for everyday families because people's costs are going up. You have these macro forces because of the pandemic that are very difficult to address. So, what these bills do is the infrastructure bill will fix some of the supply chain problems because--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --Not immediately. 

SEN. GILLIBRAND: But at least invest, it invests in ports and invests in ways to begin to fix the supply chain problems that we've had. Second, in the Build Back Better bill, it can lower costs for prescription drugs. It's one of the biggest costs that a lot of families have, particularly our seniors. It can lower costs for childcare. You know how expensive childcare is. Affordable daycare, universal pre-k. That's going to take zero through five and make it more affordable for families. It's for many families. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you really think Democrats have been able to explain this to voters yet? 

SEN. GILLIBRAND: Well, we are.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're still talking about a bill that we don't know what's in or out of it.

SEN. GILLIBRAND: So, the push and pull of what's in the bill, what's not in the bill, that's going to be resolved in the next few weeks. And once we sign this bill into law, we can go around our states and districts and talk about why affordable daycare matters. I know that if families have to put 20, 30, 40% of their income just into childcare, what's that's done for families is sometimes they don't have a second child or don't have a third child. Sometimes they have to quit their job because it's more cost effective to stay home. That means that parent can't be a wage earner. It means less money is going into the economy. It means they can't grow in their careers and earn more money. It stifles economic growth. It's very bad. So affordable daycare is one of the basic investments in infrastructure that we need, so more people are working. That's how we lower costs for people in things like housing and childcare and in prescription drugs.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That takes time. Before I let you go though, I want to make sure I ask you about military sexual assault. You've been confident that you could get this passed. Are you confident this stays in this must pass Defense bill?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: So, we have our military justice reform that takes all serious crimes out of the chain of command and gives a decision about whether to prosecute these crimes to trained military prosecutors who are unbiased and will give justice to survivors of sexual assault and other serious crimes. Right now, that's in the Senate bill. The only way this does not become law is if four men, behind closed doors, take it out in conference. And that would be an outrage because this bill is supported by 66 senators,--

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're worried that it will? 

SEN. GILLIBRAND: --including Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, who's going to be on your show, Liz Warren and Bernie Sanders. How many bills in America are supported by those four individuals? Not many. And then on the House side, it's supported by 220 House members. That--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --Yeah. 

SEN. GILLIBRAND: Democracy should not be shunned. This is something that should not be done behind closed doors in the dead of night. It should be allowed to pass, and everyone should make sure that their voices are heard on this issue. If we want justice for service members, justice for sexual assault survivors and justice for every female service member. You need this reform.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, senator, thank you for coming in. 

SEN. GILLIBRAND: Thank you. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. 

SEN. GILLIBRAND: Thank you, MARGARET.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be back in a minute.

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