U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono Wages War with Trump Even As She Battles Cancer
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
It is 3:30 on a Tuesday afternoon in Honolulu and U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono is dashing into her third-floor office in the Prince Kühiö Federal Building as a sound bite of President Donald Trump plays on her office television set.
“Oh my God, now what is he saying,” Hirono says, glaring at the CNN broadcast.
“The man does not read; his attention span is this big,” she says, gesturing. “He can’t maintain a coherent position from one moment to the next.”
Ever since Donald Trump debuted on the national political scene, many Hawai‘i voters have noticed a major change in the Democrat, who first ran for public office in 1980 and rose to become lieutenant governor. She has emerged as “Speak her own mind Mazie.” Perhaps the combination of a stage 4 cancer diagnosis last year and working in a national capital controlled by conservative Republicans has brought Hawai‘i’s liberal U.S. senator to full voice.
Hirono admits that she is making national TV news as Trump continues to raise the level of partisan, anti-immigration rhetoric.
“I get asked a lot to weigh in. I’m glad to do it, because this administration gives me so many things to oppose and be critical of,” Hirono said in an interview.
“It is important to recognize in a divisive time such as this, with such a divisive president, that someone who looks like me is an important voice,” says Hirono.
At 70, Hirono is running for re-election to the Senate. She is also undergoing immunotherapy to treat cancer that showed up on her thyroid after she was diagnosed with kidney cancer and had a kidney removed. The Hawaii Comprehensive Cancer Coalition Summit recently presented her with a “Courage Award.”
“I am in treatment. I am plugging away, not fading away,” Hirono emphasizes, adding that she “fully intends to do what is needed to get re-elected.”
To that end, Hirono has already raised $3,173,091 for her upcoming campaign. As of now, she has no opposition.
Since first running for Congress in 2006, Hirono has consistently framed her campaign as the Hawai‘i version of America’s story: born in Japan to a mother who was an American citizen, but forced to immigrate to America at age 5 with her brother and her mother, who was fleeing an abusive husband. She could not speak English and was a total stranger to American culture. So, unyielding support for fair immigration laws is a cornerstone of her beliefs and political campaign.
Trump’s attacks on immigration reform and calls to halt immigration and build border walls defines Hirono’s target.
At the top of her priority list are the so-called “Dreamers,” the more than 1.8 million children and young people who were brought into the United States by parents who had not entered the country legally.
“They came in as children; it is not as if they had a choice in the matter. And even the president said they are wonderful people and we need to treat them with love. Bullshit!
“When he deep-sixed that bill that would have protected the Dreamers, I said protecting the Dreamers was the farthest thing from his mind,” said Hirono, who was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006.
Although the recently passed bipartisan federal budget deal included several key provisions that Hirono said she championed, she eventually voted against it because Congress had not taken up anything to stop the impending deadline cancelling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program — commonly referred to as DACA — which provides a level of amnesty to certain undocumented immigrants.
“The bipartisan budget bill had a lot of good things in it. I voted against it to make the point that we didn’t do DACA. I wanted to make the point that we have a commitment to protect the Dreamers. And we couldn’t do it,” Hirono said.
Hawai‘i’s junior U.S. senator is not optimistic about the chances of immigration reform happening under the current GOP Congress and president.
“Sadly, racism is not far below the surface in our country,” she said.
“It doesn’t take much to fan the ‘They aren’t us’ fervor in our country. The president engaged in very divisive rhetoric and exemplified it with his decisions like the Muslim ban and statements he made against judges.”
But Hirono said Trump’s extremism has also triggered a strong response from the left.
“The extreme behavior of Trump and the policies he is advocating has led to a counter-reaction and gives me some hope.”
Richard Borreca is a Honolulu journalist. He has worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, KHVH News Radio, KHON-TV, Honolulu Magazine and The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, for whom he now writes a Sunday column.