LIHUE — While media surrounding Hawaii’s U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s Tuesday opinion piece in The Hill points to a clash between Gabbard and U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, Gabbard’s office says the two are still working together.
“She (Gabbard) respects Senator Hirono, and they have a good relationship working together, and will continue to do so for Hawaii,” said Lauren Mcllvaine, spokeswoman for Gabbard.
She continued: “The piece was not directed at Senator Hirono, and she never mentioned Senator Hirono in the piece. The point overall is about protecting religious freedom and calling out religious bigotry.”
The opinion piece was written after the U.S. Senate questioning of U.S. District Court nominee Brian Buescher, from Nebraska, during which two Democratic senators — Hawaii’s Hirono and Kamala Harris of California — reportedly asked Buescher whether his membership in the Knights of Columbus would prevent impartiality in the position of District Court judge.
Knights of Columbus has made a public stance on issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, and senators questioned whether Buescher could make clear decisions without involving his personal beliefs on those kinds of issues.
The piece itself encourages standing up for religious freedom and against using religion as a weapon for one’s own gain.
“While I oppose the nomination of Brian Buescher to the U.S. District Court in Nebraska, I stand strongly against those who are fomenting religious bigotry, citing as disqualifiers Buescher’s Catholicism and his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus,” Gabbard wrote in the opinion piece.
She continued: “If Buescher is ‘unqualified’ because of his Catholicism and affiliation with the Knights of Columbus, then President John F. Kennedy, and the ‘liberal lion of the Senate’ Ted Kennedy would have been ‘unqualified’ for the same reasons.”
Hirono’s office Thursday explained the reasoning behind her line of questioning, saying Hirono was concerned Buescher would be unable to separate his personal beliefs from decisions he’d have to make if he was a judge in U.S. District Court.
The office also pointed out that Hirono has been subject to ongoing political attacks because of the stances she’s taken on President Donald Trump’s nominees.
“It is unfortunate that Congresswoman Gabbard based her misguided opinion on the far-right-wing manipulation of these straightforward questions,” said Hirono spokesman Will Dempster.
Gabbard’s office, however, says she’s not criticizing Hirono; she’s “standing up for religious freedom no matter who is lobbying the attack or directed against any religion.”
Reports also state that Hirono’s office wasn’t given a heads up that the piece was going to be published, but that’s par for the course when it comes to Gabbard, according to Mcllvaine.
She said “it’s not typical” for Gabbard to run messages like the opinion piece through the rest of the delegation.
“While I absolutely believe in the separation of church and state as a necessity to the health of our nation, no American should be asked to renounce his or her faith or membership in a faith-based, service organization in order to hold public office,” she wrote in the opinion piece.
Jessica Else, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.