WASHINGTON — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand blasted President Donald Trump's Twitter attack on her as a "sexist smear" on Tuesday and said it was meant to silence her and others who have accused him of sexual misconduct, while Democrats demanded an ethics investigation of the president.
But the White House said Tuesday afternoon that "only if your mind is in the gutter would you have read" the tweet as sexual innuendo.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Trump's tweet — in which the president claimed Gillibrand would beg for him for campaign contributions before he was elected and that she "would do anything for them" — was intended as a critique of the current campaign finance system and special interests that he's long-complained dominate Washington. His phrasing was in no way sexist, Sanders insisted, because he's used it before in reference to both male and female lawmakers.
Trump has mentioned that donating to political candidates during his time as a private citizen and businessman meant "they do whatever the hell you want them to do." But that sentiment doesn't quite match what the president wrote in his tweet Tuesday.
Trump also labeled Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a "lightweight" and a "total flunky" for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who also represents New York, a day after she called on the president to resign amid a series of sexual misconduct and assault allegations against him.
"Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office 'begging' for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!" the president tweeted.
Gillibrand, at a Tuesday news conference, excoriated Trump for the suggestive remark that she would do anything and said she will continue to call for him to step down.
"It was a sexist smear attempting to silence my voice, and I will not be silenced on this issue. Neither will the women who stood up to the president yesterday," she said, referring to the TV interview and press conference on Monday by women who have previously accused Trump of sexual misconduct before he took office.
"Their voices also will not be silenced," she added, "and neither will the millions of women and men who have marched against the president and his policies."
Gillibrand said Congress should open an investigation into the president because "it's the right thing to do."
Trump's attack was prompted after the New York Democrat said in an interview on Monday that the president should step aside amid the dozens of allegations from women, which range from inappropriate touching to sexual assault.
"President Trump has committed assault, according to these women, and those are very credible allegations of misconduct and criminal activity, and he should be fully investigated and he should resign," Gillibrand told CNN.
The president has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by more than a dozen women. He has forcefully denied all allegations.
Gillibrand responded to the barb-laced tweet with one of her own, vowing to continue to talk about the allegations against him and call on Congress to investigate the president.
"You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office," the senator tweeted.
The quarrel between the two quickly prompted Democrats to come to Gillibrand's side and boost calls for the president to resign or for Congress to open an ethics investigation.
The several Democrats who called on the president to step down include Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.
"He's a misogynist and admitted sexual predator and a liar. The only thing that will stop him from attacking us, because nobody is safe, is his resignation," Hirono said.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who frequently tussles with the president, called the attack on Gillibrand an attempt "to bully, intimidate and slut-shame" Gillibrand.
"Are you really trying to bully, intimidate and slut-shame @SenGillibrand? Do you know who you're picking a fight with? Good luck with that, @realDonaldTrump. Nevertheless, #shepersisted," Warren tweeted.
More than a hundred Democratic lawmakers signed a letter calling on the Republican-led House Oversight Committee to open an investigation into the president. The move was led by the Democratic Women's Working Group in the House, which held a press conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to denounce the president's attack on Gillibrand.
"The Me Too movement has arrived," said Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., referring to the #MeToo social media movement where women and some men share stories about sexual misconduct.
"Sexual abuse will not be tolerated whether it's by a Hollywood producer, the chef of a restaurant, a member of Congress or the President of the United States. No man or woman is above the law."
Others said they were appalled at the president's tweet.
"It is grotesque. It took my breath away," said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who came forward in October with her own story of being sexually harassed on Capitol Hill. "And it represents the conduct of a person who is ill-equipped to be the president of the United States."
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., also tweeted: "I stand with Sen. Gillibrand, a dedicated public servant and friend. America must reject Trump's sexist slurs."
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told reporters on Tuesday, that the president will falter in his attempt to bully Gillibrand.
"I could just tell you that the president will fail in any effort to intimidate Kirsten Gillibrand. It ain't going to work," he said. "If anything she is going to be strengthened in her efforts. She is a pretty determined person."
Federal campaign records show that Trump donated to Gillibrand's campaign during her 2010 special election run, including $2,400 for the primary and general election. He also donated $1,050 to her congressional campaign in 2007-2008. He also gave $2,100 to the Gillibrand Victory Fund PAC in 2007, according to federal campaign records.
Dartunorro Clark reported from New York and Ali Vitali reported from Washington.