WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono had four stern words for Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell when she passed him in the Capitol hallway Tuesday regarding a sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh:

“Do the right thing.”

Hirono made the comment as she left a press conference in which she and other Democrats, including Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, called for a delay in Kavanaugh’s confirmation proceedings until the FBI had a chance to investigate the allegations.

Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono speaks at a Tuesday press conference. She said the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh should be delayed until a sexual assault allegation against him is fully investigated. Nick Grube/Civil Beat

McConnell smiled in response and walked to the podium to greet the media and tell them that Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, would have her say Monday during a hearing before the Judiciary Committee.

He then questioned why Ford’s allegations are only coming to light now.

“It’s pretty obvious this is all about delaying the process,” McConnell said. “But the accuser certainly does deserve a right to be heard.”

Hirono is in the middle of a political brawl on Capitol Hill, the likes of which haven’t been seen in decades.

A U.S. Supreme Court nominee who could swing the course of federal jurisprudence firmly in favor of conservatives now stands accused of sexual assault.

Hirono, a leading advocate for the #MeToo movement and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said during the Democrats’ press conference that it would be unfair for Republicans to continue with the confirmation process before a thorough investigation is completed.

And she called on the media to hold Republicans accountable if they continue to railroad the nomination through, saying that to do so is not “editorializing.”

“Why should we participate in the victimization of someone who has the courage to come forward?” Hirono asked. “She is under absolutely no obligation to participate in a smearing of her and her family, and that is why I am very clear about what needs to happen.”

Asked by a reporter how having four women — all Democrats — on the 21 member Judiciary Committee would affect Monday’s proceedings, Hirono brought out the same four words she later directed at McConnell, and said she expects her male colleagues to take Ford’s allegations seriously.

“I just want to say to the men of this country, just shut up and step up,” Hirono said. “Do the right thing for a change.”

‘A 17-Year-Old Is No Baby’

Ford’s accusations surfaced last week when Senate Democrats said they sent a letter written by Ford to the FBI to investigate sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh, who was nominated by President Donald Trump.

At the time, Ford’s identity had not been made public.

On Sunday, The Washington Post published a story in which Ford revealed herself as the author of the letter and recounted her recollection of the incident, which she said occurred more than 30 years ago when she and Kavanaugh were in high school.

FILE - In this July 19, 2018, file photo, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh glances at reporters during a meeting with Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., on Capitol Hill in Washington. Kavanaugh has been a conservative team player, and the Supreme Court nominee has stepped up to make a play at key moments in politics, government and the law dating to the Bill Clinton era. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in July. AP

She told The Post that Kavanaugh and a friend trapped her inside a bedroom during a party and that Kavanaugh pinned her down and groped her while trying to remove her bathing suit. She said she tried to scream, but that he put his hand over her mouth.

“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” Ford told the newspaper. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”

Ford, now a 51-year-old college professor, said she was able to escape by fleeing to a bathroom and locking the door.

In her role on the Judiciary Committee, Hirono has stridently questioned Trump’s judicial nominees about sexual misconduct.

She asks every nominee the same two questions:

• Have they ever been accused of sexual harassment or assault?

• Have they ever faced any discipline or entered into a settlement agreement as result of sexual misconduct?

Kavanaugh answered no to both questions. But Hirono’s questioning also included the qualifier of whether any of those acts occurred after he became a “legal adult,” which he was not at the time of the alleged assault.

Hirono told Civil Beat on Tuesday the new allegations won’t change how she plans to ask questions of judicial nominees moving forward, in large part because juvenile records are typically not a matter of public record.

But in reference to Kavanaugh, she said, “A 17-year-old is no baby.”

Hirono said she has yet to determine how she will approach Monday’s hearing. Whether it is conducted privately or publicly is up to Ford.

“Republicans want to have a hearing so they can say that they had a hearing,” Hirono said.

Will History Repeat Itself?

Hirono is not the first Hawaii politician to speak out about allegations of sexual misconduct by a Supreme Court nominee.

Many, including Hirono, compare Ford’s accusations against Kavanaugh to those made against Clarence Thomas in 1991 by law professor Anita Hill when Thomas was going through his confirmation process.

Patsy Mink SFCA

At the time, U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, who represented Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, sought to block Thomas’ confirmation after he was nominated by President George H.W. Bush.

Mink, a Democrat, had co-authored landmark Title IX civil rights legislation that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools.

She urged senators on the Judiciary Committee, which was then chaired by Joe Biden, to hear Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment, which Hill said occurred when Thomas was her boss in the U.S. Department of Education and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Here’s how a recent profile of Mink in The Atlantic described her efforts:

When the Senate Judiciary Committee refused to let Hill testify, Mink and six other Democratic congresswomen, including Barbara Boxer of California, Patricia Schroeder of Colorado, and Louise Slaughter of upstate New York, made a spontaneous decision to march together to the Capitol room to demand a meeting.

Their climb up the stairs was memorialized in a front-page New York Times photograph, a moment that is now considered a turning point for women in politics. But though the Senate committee ultimately allowed Hill to testify, Thomas was approved in a narrow 52-48 vote.

Thomas famously attacked the Senate Judiciary for questioning him, saying it was a “national disgrace” and “a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.”

Hill, like Thomas, is black.

Hirono described Mink, who died in 2002, as a friend and someone she admired.

Confirmation to the Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment, Hirono noted, and nominees should be vetted carefully. She said she’s seeing too many similarities between what happened in 1991 and now.

“It’s really way too reminiscent of Anita Hill,” Hirono said. “This is going to be a situation where they’re going to try to cast aspersions on her, call her a liar or say that she’s mixed up.”

But Hirono said she hoped the final result will be different.

“Frankly, we should not have two people on the Supreme Court who get there under this kind of cloud,” Hirono said. “It’s bad enough we have one.”

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to news@civilbeat.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. 

And you comment directly on this story by scrolling down a little further. We are enabling comments on some stories in the spirit of having a robust community conversation.

Support Civil Beat during the season of giving.

As a small nonprofit newsroom, our mission is powered by readers like you. But did you know that less than 1% of readers donate to Civil Beat?

Give today and support local journalism that helps to inform, empower and connect.

About the Author