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Senate Democrats/Flickr (CC-BY)
The Hawaii senator may just be our greatest feminist hero.
These times—dark times, trying times, times of malleable facts and a well of bigotry burbling up from the belly of the White House—demand a hero. For those of you who’ve spent the past week watching the Brett Kavanaugh saga unfold with hands tangled in your hair and an unbroken frustration shriek emanating from your mouths, Mazie Hirono might just be it.
Reliably willing to call bullshit as she sees bullshit, the Hawaii senator—an immigrant and a cancer survivor who has leveraged her own experiences to demand empathy from her colleagues—has taken stand after stand against her Republican colleagues. Most recently, she has reprimanded all the country’s men for failing to “step up” when it comes to confronting sexual misconduct.
Sen. Hirono’s frustration, of course, stems from apparent unwillingness among male members of the GOP to treat sexual abuse as a litmus test for their support of Kavanaugh, whose bid for the Supreme Court bench has recently been marred by allegations from Christine Blasey Ford. Last Sunday, Ford unwillingly came forward as the woman who’d accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault in an anonymous letter to Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.). Ford says Kavanaugh pinned her down and tried to remove her clothes, and that she “thought he might inadvertently kill” her.
Now as Republicans rush to jam through a vote and confirm a conservative justice (because apparently, any conservative justice will do), Hirono has stepped to the opposition’s fore. She has, pointedly and in front of reporters, called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “do the right thing” and on all the men—all of them!—to “shut up and step up” when it comes to sexual misconduct.
As I was asking @maziehirono questions just now, she looked right at @SenateMajLdr as he was passing in Ohio Clock corridor outside Senate chamber, and said: “Do the right thing!”— Laura Barrón-López (@lbarronlopez) September 18, 2018
Cornyn chuckled a little. Hirono’s staffers were visibly taken aback.
“I’m very graphic in what I say, because this is what’s happening,” Hirono told the Washington Post this week. “I’m very upset by this.”
We’ve been marinating in a near-constant state of upset for almost two years now, and we need Hirono to keep cutting through the nonsense like a human knife. And since her swearing-in over five years ago, she has seemed only too happy to be that knife.
Here are 11 of the most satisfying moments when Mazie Hirono has been gloriously, devastatingly, iconically frank.
The best Mazie Hirono quotes of all time
1) “To the men in this country: Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing for a change”
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Sen. Mazie Hirono emphasized that it shouldn’t just be on women to make sure the Senate does its due diligence on Kavanaugh.
“I expect all of the enlightened men in our country, ’cause there must be millions of men out there who are enlightened, who also will rise up to say we cannot continue the victimization and the smearing of someone like Dr. Ford,” she said. “And you know what, she is under no obligation to participate in the Republican efforts to sweep this whole thing under the rug, to continue this nomination on the fast track and to participate in a smear campaign and basically a railroad job. This is what they did to Anita Hill.”
For reference, Republicans made clear earlier in the week that if Ford did not testify against Kavanaugh in person, and soon, they would move forward with the confirmation; Anita Hill is the woman whose extremely credible sexual harassment complaint against Clarence Thomas comparably roiled but did not thwart his confirmation as a SCOTUS Justice in the ’90s.
“Guess who is perpetrating all of these kinds of actions? It’s the men in this country,” she continued. “I just want to say to the men in this country: Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing, for a change.”
2) “That is such bullshit, I can hardly stand it”
Mazie Hirono tells ABC that Chuck Grassley's claim that Republicans have done everything they can to contact Dr. Ford "is such bullshit I can hardly stand it." pic.twitter.com/cPUr0EeI0R— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) September 20, 2018
On Thursday, Hirono turned her attention to a letter Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley sent to Democrats, attempting to hasten the Ford investigation along. Addressing the letter’s claim that Republicans had done everything possible to contact Grassley, Hirono bluntly stated: “That is such bullshit I can hardly stand it.” A spokesperson for Grassley called Hirono’s assessment “nonsense.”
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3) “I don’t owe this president the courtesy to meet with … Kavanaugh”
Since Trump announced Kavanaugh as his Supreme Court pick, Hirono has been clear about her disdain, and openly questioned his reasoning. Speaking to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in late August, Hirono said: “I do not owe this president the courtesy to meet with his nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who, by the way, is being nominated because the President expects Justice Kavanaugh, should he make it to the Supreme Court, to basically protect the President’s ‘okole,’ as we say in Hawaii.”
She’s referring to Kavanaugh’s seemingly staunch belief that executive power grants the president immunity from investigation; “okole” means “butt” in Hawaiian.
4) “Starting today, I’m asking nominees to our courts, under oath, whether or not they have a history of sexual assault or harassment”
In a tweet, she vowed from this moment forward she would question every court nominee about whether they have perpetrated harassment and assault.
“Starting today, I’m asking nominees to our courts, under oath, whether or not they have a history of sexual assault or harassment. Like in other industries, our judges are in positions of power & #TimesUp,” she tweeted.
Starting today, I'm asking nominees to our courts, under oath, whether or not they have a history of sexual assault or harassment. Like in other industries, our judges are in positions of power & #TimesUp. pic.twitter.com/Jk0NcTBi3h— Senator Mazie Hirono (@maziehirono) January 10, 2018
Her questioning started at a hearing for Louisiana district judge Kurt Engelhardt, President Trump’s Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals nominee, in January and has extended to Kavanaugh.
5) “Do you think that that is an open question was to whether … aliens in our country have … a constitutional right to an abortion?”
Born in Japan, Hirono is the only immigrant in the Senate and has been tough on Kavanaugh when it comes to his position on immigration issues. When he attempted to sidestep questions on his aggressive efforts to deny an undocumented minor an abortion, Hirono came back with a quip on alien rights: “Do you think that that is an open question as to whether or not alien minors, or in fact aliens in our country, have… a constitutional right to an abortion?” she asked, allowing Kavanaugh’s silence to speak for him.
6) “The president is very anti-immigrant. It’s a very xenophobic, nationalistic attitude”
Hirono’s history makes her especially vigilant when it comes to Trump’s continued attacks on immigration, and she’s refreshingly straightforward when she addresses them.
“The president is very anti-immigrant. It’s a very xenophobic, nationalistic attitude,” she told Time in a profile published in May. “I’m one of the few members who calls him a liar. I don’t sugarcoat it and say he stretches the truth. No, the man lies every day. To call the president a liar, that is not good. But it happens to be the truth.”
7) Detention facilities are “reminiscent of what happened to the Japanese Americans during World War II”
That same history makes the subject of immigrant detention and family separation personal for Hirono, whose mother fled Japan because of an abusive marriage, and worked low-wage jobs to support Mazie and her brother. If they had been ripped away from her mother, Hirono has said, “I know we would have been devastated.”
On top of that empathy, Hirono also sees parallels between our current cultural climate—recall the kennel-like compounds where thousands of migrant children have been held—and another shameful period in the country’s past. Speaking to PBS, Hirono called the detention centers “very reminiscent of what happened to the Japanese Americans during World War II,” i.e., when President Roosevelt imprisoned well over 100,000 people of Japanese descent in makeshift camps for the duration of the war.
8) Trump “governs by chaos, which he mainly creates himself”
In response to Trump’s July threat to shut down the government if he wasn’t given money for his border wall, and the subsequent confusion it seeded within his own party, Sen. Hirono went on MSNBC and said: “The president says a lot of things. He changes his mind. He governs by chaos, which he mainly creates himself.”
9) “You showed me your compassion. Where is that tonight?”
On one of the many occasions when congressional Republicans went after the Affordable Care Act, Mazie Hirono once again drew on her personal experience to make a powerful case for basic decency. In July 2017, she stood up in the Senate chamber and reminded her colleagues how appreciative she was to have healthcare when she received her kidney cancer diagnosis: Without insurance, she wouldn’t have been able to afford the care that, she said, “probably save[d] my life.”
“When I was … facing my first surgery, I heard from so many of my colleagues, including so many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, who wrote me personal notes sharing with me their own experience with major illness in their families and with their loved ones,” she said. “You showed me your care. You showed me your compassion. Where is that tonight?” she continued, pounding her fist on her desk for emphasis.
“I can’t believe that a single senator in this body has not faced an illness, or whose family member or loved one has not faced an illness, where they are so grateful that they had healthcare,” she said. “I know how important healthcare is; what I don’t get is why every single senator doesn’t know that. …Where is your compassion? Where is the care that you showed me?
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10) “Every person in this administration who lies for @realDonaldTrump should resign”
Given her readiness to tell it like it is, Sen. Hirono’s majestic Twitter presence will surprise no one. This is a senator who has truly mastered the subtweet. Please see for evidence: Her response to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s obviously, verifiably baseless assertion that the U.S. government did not “have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.”
11) “People will know who I am”
Long before Hirono hit the nation’s capital, she was battling male politicians who underestimated and belittled her. Speaking to NPR in June, she recalled how then-Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Ben Cayetano tried to dissuade her from running for lieutenant governor in 1994, arguing that she would hurt the party’s chances.
Hirono told NPR that she listened to his spiel, looked him in the eye, and replied, “Well, that’s all fine and good, but it’s all bullshit. And I’m running.” She added that “people will know who I am” by primary season, and went on to secure more votes than her running mate. “I’ve been a fighter all my life,” she said. “I just don’t look like that.”
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
Claire Lampen is a lifestyle reporter who covers sex, gender, and reproductive rights. Formerly a Fulbright fellow, she has published work with Vogue, Gizmodo, Refinery29, Teen Vogue, the BBC, Vice, Marie Claire, and more.