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MATT LAUER: Now to another political saga, the filling of Hillary Clinton's Senate seat. Once the dust settled from Caroline Kennedy's sudden removal from consideration, New York Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand was tapped for the post. Over the weekend she met for lunch with New York's governor, David Paterson, Secretary of State Clinton, and New York's senior senator, Chuck Schumer. She also sat down for an exclusive interview with NBC's Lester Holt.
Lester, good morning to you.
MR. HOLT: Matt, good morning to you.
At 42 years old, Gillibrand will be the youngest member of the U.S. Senate. She's also a lawyer and a mother of two small children. And during our conversation, I asked her about following on the heels of Hillary Clinton.
(Begin videotaped segment.)
SENATOR-DESIGNATE GILLIBRAND: To have Senator Clinton's seat to me is extremely meaningful, because she has very big shoes to fill, but it's so wonderful to get to follow in her steps.
MR. HOLT: As you said, you read the same newspaper accounts that we all did --
SENATOR-DESIGNATE GILLIBRAND: Yeah.
MR. HOLT: -- that Caroline Kennedy at one point was the front- runner.
SENATOR-DESIGNATE GILLIBRAND: Yeah, I assumed she would be the front-runner. I assumed she would be the senator. But she took her name out.
MR. HOLT: I want to talk about the process that led to Governor Paterson selecting you. I just want to get your view of how you saw it, from the outside looking in, and then ultimately being on the inside.
SENATOR-DESIGNATE GILLIBRAND: I think the governor had a blessing of so many people to choose from for what he thought was best for the state.
MR. HOLT: Do you think you were the first choice?
SENATOR-DESIGNATE GILLIBRAND: In the end I was. (Laughs.)
MR. HOLT: (Laughs.) Do you feel particularly bad, though, about the way Caroline Kennedy came out of this process, the reports about her, the criticism even?
SENATOR-DESIGNATE GILLIBRAND: I admire her very much, and I think she's a wonderful public servant. And I hope I'm lucky enough to get to work with her.
MR. HOLT: Have you spoken to the president?
SENATOR-DESIGNATE GILLIBRAND: I did. He called. It was such an honor. And he said, "Congratulations. I look forward to working with you." Having President Obama lead our nation at this time, having a majority in the House and in the Senate, we can actually change what's going on in this country.
MR. HOLT: With all due respect, you're a relative unknown. Help us label you. How do you describe yourself politically?
SENATOR-DESIGNATE GILLIBRAND: Well, I don't usually describe myself politically. Where I grew up, upstate New York, we tend to be more fiscally conservative.
MR. HOLT: When the conversation of labeling you comes up, it goes right to gun control. You get a 100 rating from the NRA. What should people know about where you come from in terms of your opposition to gun control?
SENATOR-DESIGNATE GILLIBRAND: My mom's a hunter. My dad's a hunter. My brother's a hunter. I tend to just do fishing. But for them, it's a passion. It's part of our culture. It's part of our heritage. But there's a big difference between protecting hunters' rights and some of the other things that are so important to these downstate communities and to the communities of cities.
Obviously we want to reduce gun violence. And I'm going to work with the leaders in our caucus who are at the forefront of that regulation. I hope to work with Congresswoman McCarthy specifically on her legislation to improve background checks.
MR. HOLT: Carolyn McCarthy says, by the way, she's going to run against you --
SENATOR-DESIGNATE GILLIBRAND: Well, she'll make her own decisions, but --
MR. HOLT: -- because of this issue.
SENATOR-DESIGNATE GILLIBRAND: She'll make her own decisions, but I'm going to work with her.
MR. HOLT: Are you the best person for the job?
SENATOR-DESIGNATE GILLIBRAND: I think so. I think I can do a great job. I'm going to think about the issues that they care about and then try to go back to Washington to make a difference for all the people I serve.