There is a bitter feud raging between Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono and the Trump White House.
It began in January 2018, when Hirono started asking Trump nominees — eventually including current U.S. Attorney General William Barr — whether or not they have “a history of sexual assault or harassment.” During the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Hirono gained national attention by being one of the most vocal opponents of the nomination.
President Trump reciprocated by alluding to Hirono, though not by name, as a “crazy senator from Hawaii” in a February rally in El Paso, Texas. A month later, Trump again referred to Hirono as a “crazed person” at his address to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, and reprised his attacks in an April rally at Grand Rapids, Michigan, when he called Hirono “vicious.”
Two weeks ago, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Hirono referred to President Trump as “a grifter and liar who sits in the Oval Office.” In that same hearing, Hirono showered Barr with a monologue of accusations that dated as far back as the U.S. military’s capture of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, and demanded Barr resign over his handling of the Mueller Report.
In an opinion piece published by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser last week titled, “Trump and his sycophants must be challenged,” Hirono referred to the White House as a “moral dead zone” as justification for her harsh interrogation of Barr.
Hirono’s tough talk is a new development for Hawaii’s congressional delegation. When the late Sen. Daniel Inouye chaired hearings on the much-graver issue of the Iran-Contra investigation, he refrained from ad hominem attacks on President Reagan and his inner circle, even permitting Oliver North’s attorney Brendan Sullivan a wide latitude to disrupt hearings with court-of-law style objections.
So magnanimous was Inouye’s treatment of the Reagan administration that his fellow Democrats accused him of being “lukewarm.”
Hirono’s ongoing behavior spurred Honolulu County Republican Party chairman Brett Kulbis to issue a statement calling her out over “a clear pattern of malicious and abhorrent behavior towards anyone and everyone associated with President Trump.”
When asked about his press release, Kulbis said Hirono should apologize “because she knows, as well as anyone around Hawaii knows, that is not how we act in Hawaii.”
“She has totally disgraced what Hawaii is all about,” Kulbis said.
And while Hirono has been outspoken against Trump’s broad policies, Kulbis says that Hirono has not shown zeal toward issues that directly affect Hawaii, especially poor economic conditions.
“The things that matter most to Hawaii, they will not touch, like the Jones Act,” Kulbis said. “They are not hearing the voices of the people here, and it’s unfortunate.”
While Hirono has developed in the Trump era a reputation among liberals as a “badass” for her confrontational style in holding Republicans accountable, her use of polemic has been combined with strategic fundraising, which makes her message seem less about speaking bluntly and more about partisanship.
Last September, Hirono was criticized in tweets over fundraising off the Kavanaugh hearing. In an e-mail sent just 30 minutes after Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford testified before Congress, Hirono’s fundraising blast message characterized the hearings as the senator fighting Republicans, and went on to quote the senator saying, “What that means is I have limited time to campaign for our re-election or to fundraise – making us particularly vulnerable to right-wing attacks.”
Hirono’s campaign later reversed course and claimed the e-mail was sent “in error” and promised to give all donations “to organizations helping survivors of sexual assault.” Nevertheless, Hirono’s campaign still collected significant contributions.
While being assertive and outspoken is generally considered a virtue in American politics, Hirono has scarcely shown the same demand for accountability toward Democrats that she imposes upon Republicans. Anyone can attack the opposition party; the mark of true leadership is the ability to hold everyone, especially one’s allies, accountable.
Hirono has been quick to draw a red line over corruption in the Trump White House, but at home, she is scarcely to be heard about how Honolulu agencies and leaders are facing a plethora of federal investigations. While Hirono splits legal hairs with Barr over betraying the American public’s trust with a four-page summary statement, she says nothing about the ongoing betrayal of her local constituency.
If only Honolulu had a “badass” to call out local leaders over land use, mismanagement of public funds, corruption in law enforcement and a worsening economy.
The aloha spirit isn’t about looking for dragons to slay, it’s about making a difference in real people’s lives.
Friction between members of Congress and the White House is healthy, but if Hirono is to legitimately continue in her pattern of confrontation, she must apply that same standard to her home party.
Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that people by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties, those who wish to draw power into the hands of the higher classes, and those who identify themselves with the people and have confidence in them.
Hirono would do well to ask herself which group she identifies with. It would be better to have a polite, consistent champion of the people than a firebrand who only provides political fan service to people frustrated with the outcome of the last presidential election.
The aloha spirit isn’t about looking for dragons to slay, it’s about making a difference in real people’s lives. That’s the kind of “badass” Hawaii really needs.
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.