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Sen. Mazie Hirono Wonders How Some Republicans Live With Themselves

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Even after being elected to the Senate in 2012, the Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono was, by her own choosing, a politician little known outside her home state. Then, around 2016 and the election of a particularly divisive president, Hirono, who was born in Japan and is the Senate’s only immigrant, decided that staying under the radar was unsustainable. She frequently made herself available to the national media. She publicly said President Trump was a misogynist and a liar and called for his resignation (as early as 2017, mind you). She unabashedly punctuated her comments with salty language. And it wasn’t just her unexpected transition that raised her profile: Senator Hirono’s forceful questioning during the Kavanaugh and Barrett Supreme Court confirmation hearings, as well as, more recently, calling on President Biden to nominate more diverse people for senior positions in his administration, have also been central to her earning national stature. “It’s not the easiest thing for political people to speak candidly with the national media,” says Senator Hirono, who is 73 and whose memoir, “Heart of Fire,” will be published on April 20. “I’m not doing it for effect. I don’t go out there and spew things. I’ve thought things through.”

The Senate is supposed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body, and instead it’s where so much legislation goes to die. Do you feel that it’s broken? What I see in the Senate is how important one person is. That person on the Republican side is Mitch McConnell. There are very pragmatic reasons that he holds his caucus together: He is the money person. The Republican senators having tough races, they go to him, and he provides resources. If Mitch McConnell said, “OK, we’re going to work with the Democrats,” it would happen — even if there would be holdouts like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley and Tommy Tuberville and that handful of people who — I don’t know who they think they’re representing except themselves. Mitch McConnell is a guy who single-handedly made the Supreme Court an eight-person court. Whoever heard of such a thing? And he got away with it. When one person has outsize influence like Mitch McConnell, we need to figure out ways to deal with it, and one way is filibuster reform. It could be totally removing the filibuster. I don’t think a lot of my colleagues are there.

Senator Mazie Hirono, then a state legislator, at a committee hearing in Honolulu around 1993.
From Senator Mazie Hirono

I don’t think anyone doubts that McConnell and the Republican caucus would, if it were in their best interest, eliminate the filibuster. But there are questions about the Democrats’ resolve in that regard. Are those questions warranted? I think the Democrats have been much more concerned about the process. We actually care about the fairness of it all. Then you have another party that just wants power. I would say that is a fair assessment. Not every Republican is that bad, but I’ll tell you, they pretty much toe the line. As we try to enact legislation that we’ve been talking about supporting, and that the House is going to keep sending over to us, there will be a growing recognition that we can’t just go, “Oh, well, the process is so important.” The process cannot overtake the substance of results that we need to have.

What does it mean to say both that Democrats believe in process and also that process can’t overtake what the party is trying to achieve? I never thought that the ends should justify the means. You know fairness when you see it. Like you know art when you see it. We still need to be fair, and therefore the talking filibuster, if we go there, would apply to everybody; there might come a time when the Democrats are in the minority, and that would apply to us. Limitations or changes in the process should apply to everyone. That strikes me as fair.

Hirono at her congressional campaign headquarters in Honolulu in 2006.
Marco Garcia/Associated Press

What, if any, pressure is being exerted to move the Democratic senators hesitant about eliminating the filibuster — like Manchin and Sinema — in the direction that you think the party needs them to go? While we’re going to have differences, the bottom line is that the Democrats want to do things that help people as opposed to just trying to help the richest and most powerful. And for Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, as we try to get bipartisan legislation and it continues to be stymied, slow-walked or watered down to such an extent that it’s not tenable for us to support anymore, the realization will sink in that we’re going to need to take dramatic steps in order to pass legislation that Joe Biden wants and that we support.

Senator Manchin is mentioned in your book. It’s after Al Franken has said he’s resigning, and Manchin gives you a hard time for going to his resignation speech after you said he should step down — without realizing that Franken’s office had given you the OK to be there. What was your intention in including that scene? The whole thing was painful. Al Franken, I really liked him. But this unacceptable behavior on the part of people with power — I and so many others are sick of it. So anyway, I mentioned Joe because he was the only one who said, “What a bunch of hypocrites you are to show up after you forced him to resign.” No, we did not force him to resign. He made that decision. I think that he made the right decision, although he has since said that he didn’t. But I like Joe. He sits in front of me. I said to him during the long period, “Do you think it should have taken 11 hours for your concerns to be resolved?” He said he thought he had made it plain to our leadership that he didn’t want to extend unemployment insurance benefits longer than July. He had his perspective.

Should Governor Cuomo resign? These kinds of allegations should be investigated. That certainly didn’t happen in the Kavanaugh case, by the way. The sham FBI investigation was so limited in its scope that Dr. Blasey wasn’t questioned, and other people who could have corroborated the allegations were never questioned.

You wrote in your book about a meeting you had with Dr. Blasey in Hawaii after Kavanaugh’s confirmation. She wanted to thank you for saying you believed her allegations. What else did she say about how that situation played out? She said it was bad enough when he was a federal judge and she was hoping, hoping, hoping that he would not be nominated to the Supreme Court. But when that did happen she had to come forward. She said she was prepared: She knew that he was probably going to be confirmed but she still had to go through with it. She conducted herself with such grace. It was such a contrast to Kavanaugh, who is just a political operative. In my view he’s not a very good lawyer. I’ve gotten to know Merrick Garland a little bit, and he told me he was watching the Kavanaugh hearings. Merrick Garland is not somebody who says anything bad about anybody, but the Garza case — when Kavanaugh said that was a parental-consent case, did you almost fall off your chair, as I did?

Garland said that to you about the Garza case? No, I said that to Garland. He just kind of looked at me like, Yeah. I knew that he was astounded.

Hirono with Joe Biden, then the vice president, in 2013.
Joshua Roberts/Reuters

In your eyes, did the way that the Justice Kavanaugh and Barrett confirmations were rammed through hurt the legitimacy of the Supreme Court? The Supreme Court has become ideologically far to the right. So you’re going to see 6-3 decisions along ideological lines, and that is not good for our country. It’s not good for all the circuit courts and district courts. It’s going to lead to a lot more cases being brought to the Supreme Court by right-wing groups. Janus was a case in point.

Wouldn’t the left be doing the same things if Democrats had appointed the last three Supreme Court justices? I get that kind of argument often. I expect the Supreme Court to actually expand people’s individual rights and freedoms. I don’t expect the Supreme Court to be constraining voting rights and a woman’s right to choose. I expect the Supreme Court to be protective of minority rights, and that is not where this Court is. So this is not an equivalency. I don’t mind conservatives on the Court. I mean, of the three new ones Gorsuch is pretty conservative, but he’s a literal person: If it says so right there in black and white, then he’ll go with it. Sometimes it results in really stupid decisions, in my view. If the law was there to protect people from falling through a round hole and a person fell through a square hole — too bad for you. He’s smart enough to know that’s a ridiculous posture.

When you questioned Barrett at her appeals-court nomination hearing, it seemed as if you were trying to figure out how her Catholicism might influence her rulings. That avenue of questioning made some people uncomfortable. Where’s the line with religious questions for judicial nominees? It wasn’t her Catholicism. It was her position. She was a co-author of an expansive law-review article talking about how judges should decide death-penalty cases. It was an area of inquiry, but her Catholicism — frankly, I’m a Buddhist. I’m not even a daily-practicing Buddhist because I find all religion to be very — Buddhism accepts other religions more so than many other religions I can think of. So it wasn’t that she was a Catholic, but that there’s supposed to be this thing called separation of church and state, which is becoming blurred. Her religion, I didn’t care. What I care about is the use of religion as basically trumping every other right. I was presiding over the Senate, and Senator Tuberville says something like we should bring morality back and God and prayer should come back into our schools. I’m sitting there going, What? But that is the view of too many Republicans.

Hirono at the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Amy Coney Barrett in October 2020.
Shawn Thew/Getty Images

You cut yourself off earlier. You find all religion to be very what? I find a lot of religion to have all of the proscriptions and not openness and acceptance of other people’s legitimately held faiths. That is why I describe myself as a Buddhist. Buddhism, we don’t even have a book. It is a way of living and being, which is to be compassionate and kind. I think those are two good things to try to follow. I’m not perfect in that. I can be very terse with people. Part of it is that I don’t think many of my colleagues have dealt with short Japanese women. So here I come, and I’m saying, “[expletive] you” to them, and they don’t quite know how to react.

Can you think of an example? Ted Cruz. I was his ranking on his Constitution subcommittee and we had a number of these hearings; not very many of my Democratic colleagues would come. A reporter asked me why and I said they have better things to do than to come to these half-assed hearings. There was one in which all these Republicans who showed up went over their five minutes, and it got me kind of irritated. I said to Cruz, “Are you going to let everybody go eight minutes, nine minutes?” And he said, “When you get the gavel, you can do whatever you want.” I put my hand on his shoulder — this was pre-Covid — and I said, “It can’t happen soon enough.” At that same hearing — we had a break so the mics were not on; it’s not like I’m saying this in an open hearing — he said, “Look, it’s not my fault that your people are not here.” I said, “I don’t give a flying [expletive] what your reasoning is.” He stopped and said, “I will always treat you with decorum, even if it’s not reciprocated.” I said, “I wasn’t swearing at you.”

Lately there’s been a real rise in anti-Asian racism and violence. What steps need to be taken to stop it? Racism is never far below the surface in our country. The Chinese Exclusion Act, the internment of Japanese-Americans, the Muslim ban. By now this kind of overt racism is frowned upon to say the least, but President Trump brought it to the surface, calling the virus the “China virus.” We have an environment now where random acts of violence against Asian-Americans happen way too often. We need to prosecute these people. There are a number of bills that some of us have introduced. But it helps that you have a president who says this is totally unacceptable and an attorney general who is on that page.

Is there something distinct about how we understand anti-Asian racism as opposed to anti-Black or anti-Muslim racism? Well, we’re very identifiable as Asian, and it is very clear that we all look alike to people who think that we are the “other.” The systemic racism against Blacks in our country has been ongoing. That’s a huge issue. The racism against Asians comes up in certain instances, like World War II, but we’ve always been the other. We’re probably not as threatening to whites as Blacks are. Maybe that’s one distinction.

There is the model-minority myth. And we all know that’s a myth! But we’re not as threatening maybe, and when you raise that, in a way it’s easier to target a minority group like Asians. But this is the U.S. of A., and people who do this kind of thing should be prosecuted to the ultimate.

I’m curious about interpersonal relationships in the Senate after Jan. 6 and also in the light of continued threats of violence at the Capitol. Have things changed — on a human level — with you and your Republican colleagues since then? It is hard to talk with them in any other way than purely transactional. What am I going to say? “How could you not condemn the incitement to insurrection?” I often wonder how they wake up in the morning and face themselves, but they are obviously able to bifurcate. They act as if nothing happened. That’s the amazing thing. You have Cruz, Hawley and all these guys who continued to protest the counting of the electoral votes even after what we experienced. I don’t know how they live with themselves. Then you have people like Lindsey Graham: When you enter the moral dead zone that is the Trump ambit, you’ve lost your soul. So I am pretty much just transactional with them. Some of them can be nice. But then when they vote en masse to screw people over, it’s hard to be all warm and fuzzy — and I’m not a warm and fuzzy person to begin with.


This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity from two conversations.



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Alleged NYC Capitol rioter wanted to be ‘where the action was’

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An alleged rioter from Brooklyn surrendered to the FBI Tuesday morning after telling investigators he breached the US Capitol because he wanted to be “where the action was,” court papers allege.

A tipster identified Dovid Schwartzberg in photos and video wearing a red “Make America Great Again” cap and black face mask tucked under his chin during the Jan. 6 siege that left five dead.



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Derek Chauvin found guilty of all charges in murder of George Floyd

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Former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin has been found guilty of all charges in the murder of George Floyd.


What You Need To Know

    • Former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin has been found guilty in the murder of George Floyd
    • Chauvin faces up to 75 years in prison after being found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter
    • Floyd, 46, died in May 2020 when police tried to arrest him on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill for a pack of cigarettes at a convenience store
  • Floyd died as Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as the Black man was pinned to the pavement and handcuffed after struggling with officers in the back seat of a squad car

Chauvin, 45, was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

He faces up to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder, up to 25 years for third-degree murder, and up to a decade for second-degree manslaughter – up to 75 years in all.

Chauvin will be sentenced in eight weeks, and his bail has been revoked. The ex-cop was led away from the courtroom in handcuffs.

Floyd, 46, died in May 2020 when police tried to arrest him on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill for a pack of cigarettes at a convenience store. Floyd died as Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as the Black man was pinned to the pavement and handcuffed after struggling with officers in the back seat of a squad car.

Floyd repeatedly cried that he couldn’t breathe as concerned onlookers shouted for Chauvin to stop and took cellphone video that would help spark a wave of widespread protests and unrest last summer.

Prosecutors argued that Floyd was not a threat to anyone and that Chauvin did not follow his training by using such force on Floyd. The officer “had to know” that kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds would kill him, prosecutor Steve Schleicher said during closing arguments Monday.

“He wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. He wasn’t trying to do anything to anyone,” Schleicher said of Floyd. “Facing George Floyd that day that did not require one ounce of courage. And none was shown on that day. No courage was required. All that was required was a little compassion and none was shown on that day.”

The prosecution’s parade of witnesses included eyewitnesses as well as current and former police officers. Minneapolis’ police chief and a former supervisory sergeant both testified the Chauvin could have ended his restraint of his Floyd after the suspect stopped resisting.

The defense tried to convince jurors that Floyd’s illicit drug use and existing heart disease were the causes of his death, not Chauvin’s knee upon his neck. Chauvin’s lawyer attorney Eric Nelson also argued that his client used a reasonable amount of force to restrain Floyd.

“The futility of their efforts became apparent — they weren’t able to get him into the car,” Nelson said during his closing arguments. “Three Minneapolis police officers were unable to get Mr. Floyd into the car.”

In a statement, Floyd’s legal team, civil rights attorney Ben Crump and his co-council, called the verdict “painfully earned justice for the Floyd family and community.”

Lawmakers also offered their reactions following the guilty verdict.

“This guilty verdict serves as an official proclamation of what so many of us have known for nearly a year: George Floyd was murdered by an officer who was sworn to protect and serve,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement. “However, we should not mistake a guilty verdict in this case as evidence that the persistent problem of police misconduct has been solved or that the divide between law enforcement and so many of the communities they serve has been bridged.”

“We must remain diligent in our efforts to bring meaningful change to police departments across the country,” he added. “The Senate will continue that work as we strive to ensure George Floyd’s tragic death will not be in vain.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the verdict “a step in the right direction for justice” at a press conference with members of Democratic House leadership and the Congressional Black Caucus.

“This is just the first step,” CBC chair Joyce Beatty (D-OH) said. “We know that there are still the mothers, the families, the children who are shedding tears today because a verdict will not bring back their family members.”

“We are hopeful today will be the catalyst to turn the pain, agony, the justice delayed into action,” Beatty added.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican in the Senate, said in a statement that “there is no question in my mind that the jury reached the right verdict.”

“The jury’s verdict delivers accountability for Derek Chauvin, but not justice for George Floyd,” progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said in a statement. “Real justice for him and too many others can only happen when we build a nation that fundamentally respects the human dignity of every person.”

“The trauma and tragedy of George Floyd’s murder must never leave us,” Sanders added. “It was a manifestation of a system that callously devalues the lives of Black people. Our struggle now is about justice — not justice on paper, but real justice in which all Americans live their lives free of oppression. We must boldly root out the cancer of systemic racism and police violence against people of color.”

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will address the nation later Tuesday evening, according to the White House.

“The President and the Vice President watched the verdict with staff in the Private Dining Room,” according to the pool. “Following the announcement of the verdict, the President spoke with Governor Tim Walz. The President, the Vice President, & the First Lady spoke with Philonise Floyd”

“True justice for George only comes through real, systemic change to prevent this from happening again,” he added.

Dozens of people gathered outside the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis to hear the verdict. When it was read, the crowd erupted in a mix of cheers and tears.

Outside of the Cup Foods where George Floyd was murdered last year, bystanders began throwing dollar bills in celebration. Some people brought flowers, laying them on the ground where Floyd took his final breaths. Others prayed next to paintings and images of Floyd, honoring a life cut short.

Many seemed to be in a state of shock, saying they couldn’t believe a police officer was convicted for murdering a Black person.

But the overwhelming feeling across the city was one of joy. Chants of “Justice!” and “Black lives matter” rang out across Minneapolis, from George Floyd Square to the steps of the Hennepin county courthouse.



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To curb gun violence, de Blasio goes to last year’s failed NYPD plan

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Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to curb the surging gun violence in NYC is to try out the failed policing strategy from last year — but this time, with 100 fewer cops.

The NYPD will reassign 200 cops to areas where the Big Apple has seen the highest rates of gun violence as part of their annual Summer All Out program, the mayor said Tuesday.

NYPD Chief of Department Rodney Harrison said the “bulk” of those cops would be moved to East New York and Brownsville, which have seen gun violence upticks of 67% and 88%, respectively.

He also noted Bronx neighborhoods, Mott Haven, Highbridge and Crotona, would get some additional patrols.

But all of those areas were also a policing focus last year during the summer when the city saw a months-long surge in gun violence and assigned 300 cops to the “Summer All Out” initiative.

Mayor Bill de Blasio at a press conference on April 19, 2021.
Mayor Bill de Blasio at a press conference on April 19, 2021.
Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

“We’re going to make sure that the officers are where we need them to be and we’ll make adjustments constantly,” de Blasio said when asked about the similarities to last year’s plan, which failed to combat the surge in gunplay.

De Blasio chalked up 2020’s skyrocketing shooting totals to the effect the pandemic had on the city.

“Last year again. Perfect Storm. Literal Perfect Storm. Global pandemic. Society shut down, a million jobs lost… everything went wrong simultaneously,” the mayor said, brushing off any comparison to this year.

Yet, gunplay in New York City still continues the 2020 trend — outpacing the year prior each week.

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The mayor’s office also announced gun buyback programs, “Saturday Night Lights” games, the fixing up of 15 basketball courts and anti-violence fairs to help slow the number of shootings.

The NYPD tried all those strategies last year too.

The city will double its Cure Violence workforce and Summer Youth Anti-Violence employment slots, expand gang-free zones to parks and double the tip reward to $5,000.



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