The fears of a ballistic missile strike on Hawaii from North Korea are overblown, according to U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, speaking at a town hall in Honolulu Saturday.

Hanabusa contradicted recent comments by U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who serves with Hanabusa on the House Armed Services Committee. Gabbard told a town hall meeting in Kailua last week that she was concerned about the risk of an attack on Hawaii and she was focusing her efforts on taking steps to reduce the danger by increasing anti-missile defenses at the Pacific Missile Range at Barking Sands on Kauai.

“I’m not sure what Tulsi means,” Hanabusa told the crowd of about 100 people. She said she thought it would be easier for North Korea to hit Seattle than Hawaii.

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa speaks at a town hall Saturday in Honolulu. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Hanabusa represents the 1st Congressional District of Hawaii, which is primarily Honolulu, and Gabbard represents the 2nd District, which includes the Windward coast and North Shore of Hawaii and all the neighbor islands.

Hanabusa said, however, that she remains committed to a buildup in the military budget. She said the state is on the front lines in defending the U.S. in the Pacific against threats, in response to a questioner who asked about why the United States is spending so much more than other countries on defense at a time that other needs, particularly affordable housing, go unmet.

“Will you block any increase in the military budget?,” the woman asked.

No, Hanabusa told her.

“Hawaii in particular benefits a lot from defense spending,” she said.

Later, responding to another questioner, Hanabusa reiterated her support for military spending by pointing out that the Navy shipyard in Honolulu that repairs naval vessels employs 5,200 people, many of them in high-paying jobs.

In what was the most free-wheeling of the congressional town halls held in Hawaii during the past two weeks, Hanabusa fielded dozens of questions from a friendly crowd about the Trump administration and political events in Washington and how those will affect Hawaii. The town hall was held at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on South King Street, the church where former U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye attended services as a child.

Hanabusa was a protégé of Inouye, a Senate lion who served in Washington from 1963 until his death in 2012.

Hanabusa was frank about the limited capabilities of congressional Democrats when the White House and Congress are both controlled by Republicans.

She said that budget cuts are on the way for many state agencies and organizations as the federal budget gets whittled away. Funding shortfalls are likely to hit the state’s schools, law enforcement, courts, nonprofit organizations and economic opportunity agencies.

But Hanabusa said it was impossible to know at this point what exactly is on the chopping block.

“We are waiting for the details,” she said.


Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa's Town Hall in Mo'ili'ili

She said that congressional Democrats were prepared to fight aggressively to protect funds needed by the states they represent.

“It’ll be a battle to the very end, again,” she said.

She urged Democrats to remain active and engaged in what she acknowledged to  be a very difficult political climate.

Unlike similar events held by Gabbard and U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, where many of the questions appeared to have been previously screened, Hanabusa allowed anyone who wanted to ask to stroll up to the microphone and question her. Some of the questions, for that reason, were long-winded and rambling but the crowd remained attentive and engaged for the entire two-hour event.

The loudest cheers of the day came from a question about the best steps to take to get Trump impeached.

Hanabusa said there would need to be a trial in the House of Representatives and those who support impeachment would need to convince the others. That would be difficult because the Republicans have more votes than the Democrats, she said.

“We are the minority,” she said.

Hanabusa spoke at the town hall at the request of three groups of Democratic activists—the Moililli Resisters Hawaii J20 and Resist Trump Tuesdays– who oppose the Trump agenda. Leaders of the groups asked all of the four congressional delegates—Hanabusa, Schatz, Gabbard and U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono.

She said that the groups made a condition of participation that the delegates open the meeting to all comers without requesting people to RSVP, and that anyone who came would have a chance to ask a question.

“No one responded to my request but Hanabusa,” said Tatjana Johnson, a lawyer for a nonprofit group, who coordinated the event.

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