Hawaii delegation seeks to restore clout

Hawaii delegation seeks to restore clout
© Francis Rivera

Hawaii’s congressional delegation is winning back influence on defense and national security.

The state’s power in Congress took a major hit after the retirement of Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) and the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D), who combined had served in the Senate for more than 70 years.

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Now the state’s four-member, all-Democratic delegation is seeking to restore the Aloha State’s lost clout.

Sen. Brian Schatz has been awarded a spot on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, while Sen. Mazie HironoMazie HironoDem lawmaker to Sessions: 'You are a racist and a liar' March for Science rallies draw huge crowds around US Dems knock Trump on Earth Day MORE last week was named the ranking member on the Senate Armed Service Committee’s Seapower subpanel.

In the House, Reps. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardEx-officials: Tightened ‘Buy American’ rules could hurt Pentagon tech buying Gabbard: I'm 'doing my homework' on impeachment process As Gabbard takes a stand on Syria, Dems turn on one of their own MORE and Mark Takai — both Iraq war veterans — are set to serve on the influential Armed Services Committee

While the foursome has a long way to go before matching the outsized influence of Inouye, Akaka and former Rep. Neil Abercrombie, they are on a mission to ensure that Hawaii has sway in the national security debate.

“It is very helpful to have people on the authorizing side and the appropriating side,” Schatz told The Hill.

Schatz said members of the delegation have met several times to coordinate their goals for the new Congress and are “really pleased” with their opportunity to shape Pentagon policy, including the “pivot” of U.S. military forces toward the Pacific.

“We don’t want to overstate it, but we do feel like we’re in a good position,” Schatz said.

Takai, who was sworn in earlier this month, said the “small, tight-knit delegation” is trying to maximize its leverage.

“I think it’s very strategic to have all of our members focused on what matters most to the state of Hawaii and one of the things that matter is, definitely, defense,” Taka said.

A unified front could prove useful as sequestration is set to return in full force in fiscal 2016, potentially cutting billions from DOD’s funding stream.

Hawaii has long been a key outpost for the military, dating back to the attack on Pearl Harbor that pushed the United States into World War II.

Among the several Pentagon sites located in the state is U.S. Pacific Command, which is based near Honolulu and boasts a headquarters for each of the military services.

The command is responsible for roughly half the globe and takes hundreds of thousands of military and civilian personnel to maintain, making it a prime target for budget cuts or consolidation.

Hirono, who will also serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she is looking forward to expanding her national security portfolio this year on the Seapower Subcommittee.

“While we will face difficult decisions in the coming weeks and months, I look forward to engaging in important debates on issues that are critical to Hawaii and our nation,” she said in a statement.

Takai noted that while the delegation might lack seniority, all four of the lawmakers spent years working together in the Hawaiian statehouse before being elected to Congress.

Gabbard said that close working relationship gives them an advantage.

“The rapport is there,” said Gabbard. “At the beginning, middle and end of the day, Hawaii is a small state, and making sure that each of us individually and collectively advocates for Hawaii and the unique, both challenges and opportunities, that exist there, is something that is our focus.”