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Campaigning senator sees profile rise after provocative tweet from Donald Trump

A suggestive tweet from Donald Trump has propelled a campaigning US senator to centre stage in the debate about sexual assault and harassment.

Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, was the target of Mr Trump's tweet claiming she had begged him for campaign contributions and would "do anything" for them.

Ms Gillibrand, who is up for re-election next year and is considered a possible presidential contender in 2020, has been an outspoken voice in the national debate on harassment.

Mr Trump's tweet came after Ms Gillibrand claimed he should quit as accusations from three women first aired during Mr Trump's run for the Oval Office resurfaced.

She has argued that rules in institutions from Congress to Hollywood to the US military are set to benefit the powerful and the favoured at the expense of the vulnerable.

The fiery exchange with Mr Trump on Tuesday could brighten the spotlight on Ms Gillibrand's campaign to upend the dynamics and put power in the hands of the alleged victims while simultaneously pushing the 51-year-old mother of two boys to the forefront of an unformed Democratic presidential field.

She has hit out at leading figures in her own party along the way.

Ms Gillibrand was appointed to Hillary Clinton's Senate seat, but she recently said Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency for his improprieties.

Clinton loyalists criticised her as an ungrateful opportunist.

The spat between Mr Trump and Ms Gillibrand came as a wave of sexual misconduct allegations have hit Capitol Hill, forcing several politicians out of office in just the last week alone.

"I do think this is a reckoning. This is a watershed moment," Ms Gillibrand said of the resignations.

"Politicians should be held to the highest standards, not the lowest standards."

She rejected the notion that she and other Democrats are making a calculation they hope will pay off politically as Mr Trump continues to fend off allegations of sexual misconduct lodged by more than a dozen women.

"That couldn't be more cynical and backward," said Ms Gillibrand.

"It has nothing to do with politics. This whole debate is, 'Do we care about women?'."

Ms 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 politicians dressed down senior military leaders at a hearing, insisting sexual assault in the ranks has cost the services the trust and respect of the American people.

"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," Ms Gillibrand told the uniformed men in 2013.

Four years later, Ms Gillibrand added her voice to the growing number of male senators calling for Mr Trump to resign in the face of multiple accusations.

A day after her broadside, Mr Trump singled her out.

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!"

Ms Gillibrand called 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 Mr Trump.

Ms Gillibrand silently shook her head at the idea that she had "begged" Mr Trump for campaign contributions.

Democrats rushed to Ms Gillibrand's defence.

AP

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