Insider: Gillibrand gives Whitmer a TV shout-out, gets ticket to Michigan

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

“We’re going to Michigan!” Democratic presidential hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand exclaimed Tuesday night to a baby doll she was holding on the CBS “Late Show,” where host Stephen Colbert gifted her a plane ticket to the Great Lakes state.

The junior U.S. senator from New York, Gillibrand used the late-night television appearance to announce she has formed an exploratory committee as a first step toward a potential 2020 presidential bid.

Colbert marked the occasion by giving her with a gift basket containing items to help her on the campaign trail, including the plane ticket to Michigan and the baby doll to hug and kiss for photo ops — “because I understand your children are too big to hold now,” he joked.

Gillibrand was clearly thrilled by the gift trip to Michigan and responded with praise for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

“Your viewers might know this, but Gretchen Whitmer just got elected to be governor of Michigan, and she crushed it in the last election,” she said.

Gillibrand, whose campaign staff argued in a recent memo that 2018 proved “the future of the Democratic Party is with women,” campaigned for Whitmer in Michigan last fall, joining her at a “Fems for Dems” rally in Birmingham.

She is among a handful of Democrats who have already announced plans to run for president or have formed an exploratory committee. Expect a crowded field as Democrats fight for the chance to take on Republican President Donald Trump.

Freshmen Dems get panel picks

Michigan's four new members of Congress started getting committee assignments this week from House Democratic leadership. 

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, will serve on the influential House Financial Services Committee, putting her in key position to push back against Wall Street's influence in Washington. 

Rep.-elect Rashida Tlaib talks with a reporter between sessions during member-elect briefings and orientation on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 15, 2018.

The former environmental justice attorney campaigned on a pledge to combat "corporate greed" and previously took on fights with Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun and the Koch brothers.

The committee's jurisdiction includes banking, insurance, securities and exchanges, and urban development. 

Tlaib, who served in the state House from 2009-14, joins another former Michigan state lawmaker on the panel — Rep. Bill Huizenga of Zeeland, who is expected to be the top Republican on one of its subcommittees.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, was assigned to the House Armed Services Committee. A self-described "Army wife," Slotkin also has a step-daughter who is an Army officer. 

The freshman joins sophomore Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, on the panel, which oversees issues related to the U.S. armed forces and oversight of the Department of Defense, where Slotkin previously served as acting assistant secretary. 

Pro-labor Reps. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills, and Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, will both serve on the House Education and Labor Committee.

There they'll join Michigan Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, who previously chaired the panel's Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, this week was appointed to the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. Dingell co-chairs the Medicare for All Caucus. 

Last week, Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, got a seat on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, and Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, was assigned to Appropriations. 

Absent Scott still got mileage

A former Detroit lawmaker who didn’t take a single vote from July through December still received her paycheck, monthly expense stipend and mileage for the six months.

In addition to her taxpayer-funded $71,685 annual salary, former Rep. Bettie Cook Scott of Detroit collected $900 a month for expenses and $2,633 total in mileage reimbursements between July and August, according to House Business Office records.

State Rep. Bettie Cook Scott, D-Detroit

Scott’s last time attending House session in 2018 was in June, just before the chamber went on break for the summer. After losing her primary for state Senate in August, Scott began asking for excused absences and Democrats initially granted the requests as a standard practice. But the caucus stopped after several weeks.

A Fox 2 reporter followed Scott in November and filmed her running errands while her colleagues were at work in the Michigan Legislature.

That same month, then-House Speaker Tom Leonard and then-House Democratic Leader Sam Singh issued a memo directing the House Business Office to oversee Scott’s staff. 

She was honored with a resolution at the conclusion of the term in December, a standard gesture honoring departing lawmakers that recognized her “service and leadership in this legislative body.”

Lawmakers are compensated for mileage for one round trip a week from their district to the Lansing office, said Doug Simon, director for the House Business Office.

Officials verified that Scott had in fact made the trip, despite her absences from the House floor, because she did some business with the House Business Office on those trips, Simon said.

Smith also elected to collect her $10,800 expense stipend from the House, which is paid out in $900 monthly installments and used for various expenses such as rent in Lansing, Simon said.