Rare rift on Hawaii’s congressional delegation widens as Hirono calls Gabbard’s rebuke ‘all wrong'

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, stood by her questions to a judicial nominee.
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, stood by her questions to a judicial nominee.
Updated: Jan. 10, 2019 at 5:27 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - “Off base.” “All wrong.” And “unfortunate.”

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, didn’t mince words Thursday when speaking for the first time about a public rebuke from another member of Hawaii’s congressional delegation — U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

In an op-ed published this week, Gabbard took Hirono and other Democratic lawmakers to task for how they questioned judicial nominee Brian Buescher, accusing them of “fomenting religious bigotry" against Catholics.

Gabbard, who’s been identified as a 2020 presidential contender, said senators disqualified Buescher because of his Catholicism and membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal society.

She added that she also doesn’t support Buescher’s nomination.

[Read more: Tensions rise between 2 of Hawaii’s Congressional leaders over ‘religious bigotry’ comments]

In an interview with HNN on Capitol Hill, Hirono said she stands by her questions for Buescher.

She added that Gabbard "has it all wrong and it’s pretty unfortunate. But as I say the alt-right are springing to her defense and if that’s the group that she wants to get the support of, she’s getting it.”

Days before Gabbard wrote the editorial, conservative media outlets were criticizing Hirono for her Buescher questions — and her stance that the Knights of Columbus hold extreme political positions.

Hirono also said Thursday that President Trump’s nominees for the bench have strong opinions on issues like abortion, gay rights and same sex marriage that require close scrutiny.

“I simply asked them, ‘Can you set aside those positions to be the neutral arbiter that you need to become a judge?’ That is what I am asking," Hirono said.

For her part, Gabbard isn’t backing down. She tweeted out a link to The Hill op-ed Thursday.

And in statement to HNN, she said that her criticism of Buescher’s treatment is not a “partisan left-right issue.”

“I respect Senators Harris, Feinstein, and Hirono, but we always need to remember that freedom of religion is enshrined in our Constitution and in our Bill of Rights, which so many brave Americans across generations have put their lives on the line to protect," Gabbard said.

“It’s fine to be against judicial nominees because of their position on issues or concerns about their ability to be fair, but it’s not acceptable to be against them because of their religion or religious convictions."

Meanwhile, when asked whether Gabbard’s criticism could affect their relationship, Hirono said she “works well” with Republicans (Gabbard is a Democrat) and if there are times when she can work with Gabbard “I would certainly do so.”

“But I wish that before she goes out there and starts lecturing others about how we do our jobs, you know ... she was very off-base with regard to what she said about my line of questioning," Hirono said.

Among the written questions Hirono asked Buescher:

  • Should you be confirmed, will you recuse yourself from any case relating to abortion rights?
  • Do you believe discrimination against LGBTQ individuals should be prohibited by the law?
  • If confirmed, do you intend to end your membership with this organization (Knights of Columbus) to avoid any appearance of bias?
  • If confirmed, will you recuse yourself from all cases in which the Knights of Columbus has taken a position?

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