Many Democrats in Congress have said that they support Christine Blasey Ford, the professor who this week publicly accused Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her decades ago when the two were teenagers.
But few have made as big a splash as Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), whose statements at a news conference Tuesday drew national headlines.
Speaking alongside Democratic colleagues Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), and Patty Murray (Wash.), Hirono criticized the way Republicans are dealing with Ford’s accusation.
"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,” Hirono 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.”
But it was what Hirono said in response to a reporter’s question that turned the most heads. The reporter, who was not identified in video footage of the news conference, asked whether the four women on the Senate Judiciary Committee — all Democrats — could affect its deliberations over Kavanaugh. Hirono said it shouldn’t just come down to the women.
“Guess who is perpetrating all of these kinds of actions? It’s the men in this country,” Hirono said. “I just want to say to the men in this country: Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing, for a change.”
The bluntness of Hirono’s comments reverberated around the Internet on Tuesday afternoon as the political debate around Kavanaugh’s nomination and the hearing planned for Monday generated wide discussion.
“You can see that I’m a little upset by this, the unfairness of it,” Hirono said.
On Wednesday, she doubled down, saying on CNN’s “New Day” that “this kind of behavior — sexual harassment, sexual assault — it’s been going on."
“It’s not just something for the women in this country to care about,” she said, “it’s for all of us. That’s why I’ve said to the men: ‘Just shut up and step up.’ And you know, for the men who are offended by this, you should ask yourself: Why are you offended by this? Why don’t you ask yourself: What about this offends you? We should all be holding together. We should all be treating each other like human beings.”
Hirono also reportedly told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday to “do the right thing” after he passed her outside the Senate chamber.
She was the one who asked Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing whether he had ever committed sexual harassment or assault as a “legal adult,” to which he replied, “No.”
“I started asking these questions about sexual harassment because it’s so hard to hold lifetime appointees to the federal bench accountable and because I did not want the MeToo movement to be swept under the rug,” she told him.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Ford alleged that Kavanaugh corralled her into a bedroom during a gathering in Maryland when she was in high school, pinned her to a bed, groped her over her clothes and attempted to pull off the clothing she was wearing. Kavanaugh has denied the accusation, saying in a statement Monday that he’d never done anything like what Ford has described “to her or to anyone.”
In an interview with Politico’s Off Message podcast this week, Hirono said Kavanaugh’s denial during his hearing “stretches credulity."
She said that if Kavanaugh is not confirmed or withdraws his nomination — and Democrats take the Senate in November — Republicans should nominate a more moderate judge or the seat could be held open until the 2020 election, a tactic that Republicans deployed with Antonin Scalia’s seat in 2016.
"I think we’ve had those kinds of vacancies before, and we certainly had over-a-one-year vacancy with Merrick Garland,” Hirono said. “So the world does not come to an end because we don’t fill all of the nominees.”
Politico said of Hirono’s presence on the Judiciary Committee:
Yet the unassuming senator has become Democrats’ firmest pillar of resistance on judicial nominations, refusing to vote for cloture for any Trump nominee and asking every man who appears before her at a committee hearing whether he has engaged in physical or verbal sexual assault as a legal adult. Nominees “can lie,” Hirono said, explaining why she’s made that her standard question, “but they better hope that nobody that they did this to will come forward.”
She told Politico that Ford “has a very credible story.”
“I believe her,” she said. “And now we have to do more than say, ‘Well, look at the timing!’ and ‘Well, it’s all politically motivated! This has to be taken seriously.”
She is calling for another hearing on top of the one scheduled Monday, Politico reported.
In the interview with Politico, Hirono declined to comment on criticism that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) did not disclose a letter written by Ford about the allegation until last week.