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Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono takes an aggressive stance in Kavanaugh hearings

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    Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is welcomed by protesters opposed to President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, as they demonstrate in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 20.

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, has made national headlines in the last week with her blunt comments about the treatment of women and the sexual assault allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh. At a recent news conference, for instance, she urged men to “shut up and step up,” and she told Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, to “do the right thing” as he passed her in a Capitol Hill hallway.

A first-term senator and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hirono does not have national prominence. But she is known in Washington to be unabashedly fiery — she has called President Donald Trump a “misogynist” and a “liar” — and her obvious contempt for how the Republicans have handled the accusations against Kavanaugh has particularly delighted liberal Democrats and turned her into the latest face of the left’s resistance.

It has also drawn criticism, with some Republicans arguing she is more focused on attention than solutions.

Hirono, 70, is up for re-election in November in a race she is widely expected to win. In a brief interview, she spoke with The New York Times about why she is so vocal, what she plans to ask Kavanaugh on Thursday, and why it would be hard for other women to come forward.

The following is an edited and condensed version of the conversation.

Q: You’ve been so busy. Everywhere I look, there’s another article about you or you’re on TV.

A: Oh my gosh.

Q: This is not the only time you’ve been vocal about the treatment of women. I’m wondering what motivated you to take such a prominent position on the issue of sexual abuse and harassment?

A: I’ve been interested in this area for a long time and I’m grateful that the #MeToo movement has created the space and the environment for more women to be able to come forward. My part of this as a member of the Judiciary Committee was to recognize that there was every potential for the #MeToo movement to be swept under the rug. So that’s the reason that I ask every nominee on five committees that I sit on the same two questions regarding whether they’ve ever, as an adult, engaged in sexual assault or asked for sexual favors.

Q: Have you received support from your Democratic colleagues for the lead you’ve assumed on all of this?

A: I’ve just assumed it. So they all know that I ask those questions.

I think there’s also particular relevance with regard to the new report against Judge Kavanaugh because this new report covers a time frame when he was an adult. And I did ask him whether he had ever engaged in a sexual assault or harassment as an adult. So, there is a potential for finding perjury.

Q: Do you believe the two accusers who have come forward on the record, Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez?

A: This whole idea that the Republicans have, that women just sit around making these things up, that is not borne out by the reality.

With reference to Ford, the credibility is there for her. So I believe her.

Q: And what about Deborah Ramirez?

A: I don’t think either one of these women have any reason to lie. In fact, the second person didn’t come forward on her own, she was contacted by The New Yorker.

Q: Can you share anything about what you are planning to ask Judge Kavanaugh during the hearing on Thursday?

A: It has a lot to do with his behavior and what was going on during his high school years. He has denied everything. But if you look at what’s in his yearbook, there’s a lot there that indicates lots of drinking, those kinds of things.

I want to emphasize that this is not a criminal proceeding. It is a job interview for someone who is up for a lifetime appointment. He will have the power to make decisions that will impact all of our lives for decades. And there’s absolutely nothing that guarantees anybody a so-called job promotion to the Supreme Court.

He has said what about the presumption of innocence? That is something that’s applied in a criminal context. This is a job interview. His credibility, his character, his candor matter.

Q: So it sounds like you don’t think he’s credible or ready for this promotion, as you put it.

A: Definitely not.

And by the way, I think it’s very telling that both Dr. Ford and Ms. Ramirez have asked for an FBI investigation, but he has totally resisted.

Q: Your critics have accused you of posturing for the camera.

A: [laughs]

Q: You’re up for re-election. Is this just a call for attention?

A: I’ve been doing this kind of work for a long, long time. This is not attention I sought. I speak very plainly as you probably have gathered. And that way of speaking apparently has gained the attention of a lot of people. But I certainly did not script it.

Q: What do you think of the criticism that this is all just a Democratic smear campaign against Kavanaugh?

A: I think that’s desperation on the part of the Republicans.

Q: In The New Yorker story on Sunday, it said that Senate Republicans had renewed calls to accelerate the timing of the committee vote even after senior Republican staffers learned of the new allegations. What do you make of this?

A: It’s their total intention on getting Judge Kavanaugh on the court before the October term. And they are just stonewalling. I think they think that there may be some other shoes that will drop, and therefore, they want to continue their acceleration of getting him on the court.

Q: Are you expecting other shoes to drop?

A: If there are other people who have had this kind of experience, I hope that they will come forward. But we certainly have not created an environment where their voices are going to be welcomed, definitely not by the Republicans.

Q: You are uncharacteristically blunt for a senator. Have you always been like this?

A: I think it is really important for me to speak out. And I do hear from a lot of people who appreciate the fact that I am speaking out. I am a woman, I am a minority person, and I speak in a very plain way. And I think that reaches people.

Q: I’m so glad you could make some time for me in what I’m sure is an extremely busy day in an extremely busy week. So thank you very much.

A: I just want to mention one more thing. For these two women who have come forward, their lives are upended and they have basically invited maximum scrutiny. I think that is very telling. And at the same time, Judge Kavanaugh continues to stonewall any kind of independent investigation.

Q: It seems like you think that suggests something more about him.

A: Yes. He said that he wants to get to the truth. Well, when will you get to the truth better than to have an independent investigation?

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