The U.S. Congress may soon be controlled by Republicans, but Hawaii’s Democrats in the Senate have secured important committee assignments that begin early next year.

Brian Schatz will serve on the Senate Committee on Appropriations while Mazie Hirono will serve on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Hirono will also continue serving on the Armed Services Committee and on Veterans’ Affairs.

The Appropriations Committee writes the legislation that funds government departments, agencies and organizations and has responsibility for supplemental spending bills. The late Dan Inouye of Hawaii was a former chairman and often steered federal funds toward the islands.

Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz inauguration

Senators Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono.

Courtesy of Sen. Mazie Hirono

The Intelligence Committee, meanwhile, oversees the intelligence activities and programs of the U.S. government to make sure they comport with the U.S. Constitution and federal laws. Under Democrat Diane Feinstein of California, the committee is in the news this week with its controversial report regarding the CIA and torture.

The Armed Services Committee has legislative oversight of the nation’s military, including the Department of Defense. Given Hawaii’s geopolitical strategic position in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and in proximity to Asia, the committee’s role is critical.

Veterans’ Affairs has also had a high profile lately, due to the backlog in addressing the health needs of vets. Hawaii has a large veteran population.

The appointments are subject to a full vote by the Senate scheduled for early January.

Schatz credited his appointment to Appropriations to his relationships across the aisle and his record of hard work, something that he said puts him in a “strong position” to fight for Hawaii’s interests.

“We are living in a time of changing political environment in Washington and Hawaii, but one thing is as true today as it was decades ago — the need for continued federal investment for Hawaii’s priorities,” Schatz told Civil Beat on Friday.

He will retain his seats as a member on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. But he will relinquish his position on the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, where he has advocated for developing renewable energy and mitigating climate change.

Nonetheless, Schatz says those issues will remain priorities.

“I’ll continue to work very hard on that through my participation on the Senate’s Climate Change Task Force and I’m going to be if anything more engaged on climate and energy issues,” he said. “But it was a tradeoff that I had to contend with, and it’s more than a fair trade.”

Schatz expressed hope that, under incoming Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and incoming Appropriations Chair Thad Cochran, the Senate would return to its regular process of crafting appropriations on a bipartisan basis — something that has not been easy in D.C. lately — and ensure that all senators are able to direct federal money to their respective states.

Hirono, meanwhile, in addition to gaining the plum assignment on the Intelligence Committee and staying on Armed Services, will also serve on the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources and the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship in the new Congress. Hirono, however, will relinquish her position on Senate Judiciary — another high-profile panel that is often in the news.

“I look forward to building on our work to support our service members, veterans and their families,” Hirono said in a press release Friday. “Maintaining a strong military presence in Hawaii will continue to be critical to our national security and economy in state, while also serving as a key component to our nation’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.”

Hirono added, “My new committee assignments are well-balanced and involve top priorities for Hawaii, including shaping policies that secure clean energy, protection of the environment and boosting small business opportunities that create jobs that will help us achieve a sustainable future for Hawaii.”

Committee assignments for the U.S. House have not yet been announced. Tulsi Gabbard and Mark Takai, who will replace Colleen Hanabusa come January, represent Hawaii. Both are military veterans who have made veterans’ issues legislative priorities.

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