Hirono talks Trump, budget and ‘20 field

  • 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 last September on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
    (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

KAILUA-KONA – President Donald Trump’s 2020 budget proposal is “out of whack,” U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono said Wednesday.

Earlier this month, the Republican president sent Congress a record $4.75 trillion budget plan that calls for increased military spending and cuts to domestic programs like education, health care safety nets and environmental protection for fiscal year 2020. Included in the proposal was $8.6 billion for construction of a wall along the nation’s border with Mexico.

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The budget, Hirono said, “cut everything, including $1.5 trillion from Medicare and Medicaid.”

“The president doesn’t give a rip about what happens obviously to families in this country,” Hirono said. “He just wants to build what I call his ‘vanity wall.’”

Hirono — who was on island this week making stops at various sites including The Food Basket, Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital and West Hawaii Community Health Center — offered her views on some national topics in an interview Wednesday with West Hawaii Today.

The Democrat has represented Hawaii in the U.S. Senate since 2013, most recently being re-elected in 2018 for a six-year term set to run-up in 2024. She is one of two senators representing the nation’s 50th state in the Senate.

Hirono is confident Trump’s budget won’t go through as proposed. Democrat leaders in the House and Senate previously announced the proposal dead on arrival. It’s up to the two chambers to set final spending levels.

She said she made that clear to one of Trump’s “cabinet people,” whom Hirono declined to identify but referred to the person as a “he,” when she was approached about the proposed budget.

“I said, ‘look at the president’s budget – look at the budget you are having to come and say that you defend,’” Hirono recalled. “And, I said, ‘it’s so out of whack,’ to which he says, ‘yes, but it’s not going to go through like that.’ And I said, ‘no, because we’re not crazy.’”

The “crazy,” was an apparent stab back at Trump for calling Hirono on March 2 “the crazy female senator from Ohio,” before correcting Ohio to Hawaii, and continuing, “she’s like a crazed person. What she said about men is so bad.”

Trump’s reference to Hirono’s statement about men stems from last September amid confirmation hearings for now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh when 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.”

But the criticism from Trump and others isn’t stopping her, Hirono said.

“I’ve been standing up for quite a while now so I will continue to speak out when I think it’s really important,” she said.

She continued, “I recognize this is not the kind of attention that I sought by speaking out as I do and speaking plainly, but I think it does connect with a lot of people in this country. And they come and tell me pretty much wherever I am. I mean I have my detractors — believe me — because when I tell men to shut up and step up some of them don’t like that, including the president, by the way.”

Hirono also touched on the 2020 presidential election, but stopped short of naming anyone in particular. More than a dozen Democrats have announced their seeking their party’s nod with others expressing interest. Among those officially in the race are U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (New Jersey), U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (California) and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas).

“I say on the Democratic side, there’s an abundance of riches,” she said, “and I’m really happy there are so many qualified women who are running for president because there was a time when even one person running was such a huge deal.”

The two-term senator also commended women for stepping up in the 2018 election.

“Women have come forward and they made a huge difference in the election of all these newcomers to the US House,” Hirono said. “You see the diversity represented there, you see all the women there and these are not shy, shrinking violet types, they are very well informed, very articulate.

“The women running for office at every level is a huge change to me, and I think it’s terrific.”

Hirono, who said she headed to the West Hawaii Community Health Center following her interview with West Hawaii Today, also noted her concerns regarding the administration’s family planning “gag rule” that would impact Title X, the federal funding program for reproductive health care and family planning services.

The new rule prohibits Title X providers from referring their patients to abortion providers, and requires providers to refer each pregnant patient into a prenatal care program, regardless of patient wishes, among other stipulations. It’s set to go into effect May 3.

“There would be a gag rule that they can’t refer or talk about choice as one of the options — so they would not be able to perform their responsibilities as medical professionals,” Hirono said.

In order to provide that kind of information, Hirono said community health centers would have to stop accepting the federal funding.

“So what’s happened in Hawaii, the governor has said we’re not accepting any Title X funds, which means the (Hawaii) Legislature will have to replace $2.4 million,” Hirono said. “This also shouldn’t be happening.”

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Hawaii is currently among 21 state suing to block the rules.

“We joined this litigation because the regulations are unconstitutional, were enacted illegally and without any evidentiary basis,” Hawaii Attorney General Clare E. Connors said March 5. “These new rules would, if implemented, directly harm Hawaii families, particularly women, by limiting their access to quality comprehensive health care. The changes would significantly decrease funding for medical services to uninsured, under-insured, and low-income individuals.”

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