When President Donald Trump tweeted that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand had begged him for campaign contributions and would "do anything" for them, the New York Democrat interpreted it as a reference to sex, she said Wednesday on the "Today" show, pushing back against the White House's explanation of the tweet.
And Gillibrand said that the results of Tuesday's Alabama Senate election showed that Trump, whom she called a bully, doesn't share most Americans' values. Democrat Doug Jones was the projected winner of the vote in deeply Republican Alabama over Roy Moore, who received Trump's support despite allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
"I think this was an election about what we feel and our values and what we care about, and I think President Trump is wrong," Gillibrand said in an interview on the "Today" show. "He is a bully and he has been attacking different people across this country."
She has been among a handful of senators calling for Trump to resign in the face of multiple accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior, but Trump singled her out Tuesday.
The president tweeted: "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!"
Gillibrand was at a bipartisan Bible study in the office of Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., when she stepped out to take a call alerting her to Trump's tweet. She fired back, calling the president's tweet a "sexist smear" aimed at silencing her voice. She also renewed her call for a congressional inquiry into the accusations against Trump.
Gillibrand silently shook her head at the idea that she had "begged" Trump for campaign contributions.
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Democrats rushed to Gillibrand's defense.
"Are you really trying to bully, intimidate and slut-shame @SenGillibrand?" Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts tweeted back at Trump. "Do you know who you're picking a fight with? Good luck with that."
Senate Republicans steered clear of the latest uproar involving Trump's Twitter account. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a frequent Trump critic, was an exception, telling reporters he "didn't think it was appropriate at all."
The remark brought scathing criticism from USA Today's editorial board: "A president who would all but call Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush."
At the White House, however, Trump's spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said "there's no way" the president's tweet was "sexist at all." She said Trump was talking about a rigged political system and the fact that lawmakers repeatedly plead for money. Federal Election Commission records show Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump donated nearly $8,000 to Gillibrand's congressional campaigns.
Sanders also said people would only read his comment as sexual innuendo "if your mind is in the gutter."
But Gillibrand said Wednesday that she and others read the remark as a reference to sex, one she said was "intended to silence me, and I’m not going to be silenced on this issue." And asked if her mind was in the gutter for reading it that way, Gillibrand simply said no.
She said that noted that Trump has berated women in the past and said Trump is trying to silence her as she calls for his resignation and a congressional investigation.
"Since the women's march, women have stood up, have fought hard, have spoken out about their beliefs and have not stopped, and so I think that is a testament to this election," Gillibrand said, referring to the Alabama vote.
The back-and-forth between Trump and Gillibrand came as a wave of sexual misconduct allegations roils the media industry and Capitol Hill, forcing several lawmakers out of office in just the last week alone. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., announced he would resign amid an ethics probe into accusations that he sexually harassed several women. Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Trent Franks, R-Ariz., also quit after misconduct accusations surfaced.
"We are seeing quick justice, whether it's in Hollywood or corporate America or in Congress," Gillibrand said Wednesday.
Gillibrand served notice several years ago that combating sexual assault would be her issue. A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, she and other female lawmakers dressed down senior military leaders at a headline-making hearing, insisting sexual assault in the ranks has cost the services the trust and respect of the American people as well as the nation's men and women in uniform.
"Not every single commander necessarily wants women in the force. Not every single commander believes what a sexual assault is. Not every single commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and a rape because they merge all of these crimes together," Gillibrand told the uniformed men in 2013.
NBC's Asher Klein and the AP's Richard Lardner contributed to this story.