WASHINGTON (AP) — Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono continues to gain national attention over her opposition to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

At a news conference Thursday, Hirono and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand defended Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school.

They said the Senate Judiciary Committee is being unfair to Ford. President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans have rejected Ford’s request for an FBI investigation of her accusation, which she says should take place before she testifies. Gillibrand accused Republicans of “bullying her.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., left, is applauded by demonstrators as the arrive to speak to reporters in support of professor Christine Blasey Ford, who is accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of a decades-old sexual attack, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, with New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, is applauded by demonstrators as they arrive to speak to reporters in support of professor Christine Blasey Ford on Thursday. AP

People cheered Hirono’s arrival at the press conference, with several yelling her name. Her newfound political celebrity was also apparent earlier in the day, when protesters against Kavanaugh’s nomination greeted her with cheers and applause at a Senate office building. Some of the protesters snapped selfies with her.

“They knew who I was and came up and encouraged me, and I thanked them,” Hirono said. “It was very energizing.”

It wasn’t the first time Hirono has interacted with protesters. Earlier this year, she was one of just a few senators who mingled among a large group in the same Senate Hart Office building who were opposing the Trump administration’s separation of families at the border. Hirono often calls herself the only immigrant in the Senate, and she is the sole senator who was born outside the United States to parents who were not citizens, according to the Senate Historical Office.

She acknowledges her profile has risen in recent months, saying “The Trump administration gives me so many more opportunities to be verbal and vocal.”

“She’s a badass,” said Christina Reynolds of the advocacy group EMILY’s List, which supports women candidates. “The fact that she’s getting up there and calling it out, I think it’s inspiring for us to watch.”

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer says Hirono may have seemed soft-spoken over the years, but adversaries shouldn’t forget that she has a “spine of steel.”

Hirono, one of only four women on the Judiciary Committee that is conducting Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, is encouraging other women to be active in politics, predicting their frustration will be felt in the outcome of the midterm elections.

“We work really hard to get elected,” Hirono said. “Nobody hands anything to us.”

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