Hirono electrifies left as Trump antagonist

In a chamber packed with loud personalities, Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoFederal judges should be allowed to be Federalist Society members Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers Conservative group launches campaign accusing Democrats of hypocrisy on Kavanuagh, Biden MORE (D-Hawaii) is not the obvious pick to be a pillar of resistance to the Trump administration.

She’s not running for president. She’s petite, generally unassuming and for years had a reputation among reporters for refusing to talk in the Capitol.

She is, in the words of her colleagues, a “workhorse.”

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But Hirono, 71, has emerged as an electrifying force for progressives as they battle with President TrumpDonald John TrumpFauci says his meetings with Trump have 'dramatically decreased' McEnany criticizes DC mayor for not imposing earlier curfew amid protests Stopping Israel's annexation is a US national security interest MORE on various fronts: judicial nominations, immigration, and the feud over special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s probe and subsequent report.

“Trump is a major motivation to be speaking out because I so disagree with some of the things that he decides on, and you notice there’s a lawsuit on just about everything he does? My gosh,” Hirono told The Hill.

She captured headlines Wednesday during Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrIt wasn't just religious liberty that Chief Justice Roberts strangled The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US Trump says he will designate antifa a terrorist organization MORE’s hearing before the Judiciary Committee, which has three Democrats running for president, when she used a blistering four-minute monologue to accuse him of lying to Congress and to tell him to resign.

“Now the American people know that you are no different from Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiSunday shows preview: States begin to reopen even as some areas in US see case counts increase Moussaoui says he now renounces terrorism, bin Laden Democrats launch probe into Trump's firing of State Department watchdog, Pompeo MORE or Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayGeorge Conway group targets Trump over 'blatant racism' in new ad Former Romney strategist joins anti-Trump Lincoln Project Kellyanne Conway on voting by mail in 2018 midterms: 'That's called an absentee ballot' MORE or any of the other people who sacrifice their once decent reputation for the grifter and liar who sits in the Oval Office,” Hirono said.

The exchange marked one of the most aggressive moments of the hearing, and it underscored Hirono’s role as one of the caucus’s staunchest Trump critics and her penchant for making high-profile, viral moments that thrill progressives.

It’s also made her a target for Republicans, who have nicknamed her “Crazy Mazie.”

White House press secretary Sarah HuckabeeSarah Elizabeth SandersMcEnany stamps her brand on White House press operation Sanders mocks NY Times urging DNC to investigate Biden allegations: 'I thought it was an Onion headline' Donald Trump: The Boomer TV president MORE Sanders said Democrats “embarrassed” themselves during the hearing with Barr and called Hirono’s questions “unbelievable.”

Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff and longtime adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US This week: Senate reconvenes as protests roil nation amid pandemic For city parks: Pass the Great American Outdoors Act now MORE (R-Ky.), called her “an embarrassment.”

And Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US This week: Senate reconvenes as protests roil nation amid pandemic Trump asserts his power over Republicans MORE (R-S.C.) interrupted Hirono’s back-and-forth with Barr and accused her of slandering Trump’s attorney general “from top to bottom.”

Hirono laughed when asked by The Hill about Graham’s comment as well as the accusation from GOP senators that Democrats gave Barr the “Kavanaugh treatment.”

“What is the Kavanaugh treatment except to ask very specific questions or to make very specific statements?” she asked. “The defense to slander is the truth, and sometimes the truth hurts. Opinion is not slander.”

Hirono also stood by her criticism of Barr and urged Democrats to keep raising concerns about Trump’s attorney general and the White House, referring to it as a “moral dead zone.”

“Everybody who gets into that dead zone suddenly becomes sycophants. They don’t seem to care about the rule of law, and all they care about is being yes people for the president,” Hirono added.

It’s not the first time Hirono’s criticism of the Trump administration has gone viral, a skill that has made her an unexpected favorite of the left.

She catapulted into the spotlight during the months-long battle over Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughIt wasn't just religious liberty that Chief Justice Roberts strangled Supreme Court denies California church's challenge to state restrictions Supreme Court denies Illinois churches' request for action after state eases restrictions MORE’s Supreme Court nomination, where she was one of four women on the Judiciary Committee at a time when there were no female GOP senators on the panel.

Hirono asked Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing if he “ever made unwanted requests for sexual favors or committed any verbal or physical harassment or assault of a sexual nature” as a legal adult.

Kavanaugh said he had not, but the exchange resurfaced months later amid the allegations from Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party when they were both minors. Kavanaugh denied any wrongdoing.

Hirono also broke with her typically restrained demeanor roughly a week before Ford and Kavanaugh both testified, when she said men need to “shut up and step up” in the wake of the sexual assault allegations.

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Hirono has emerged as a favorite for progressive groups in large part because of her staunch opposition to Trump’s judicial nominees. She has pledged to vote against advancing all court picks, objecting to how Senate Republicans are processing nominations, a key priority for McConnell. 

“Now that there’s only two hours of debate time, the Republicans are doing everything they can to clear the decks for as many nominees … to get confirmed as soon as possible, mainly on partisan lines,” she said. “I feel very strongly about this, as you can tell.”

The tactics earned her the title of “badass” from Demand Justice. The progressive group also gave her an A and its top spot among the Democratic caucus in a report card released earlier this year grading senators’ willingness to oppose Trump’s nominees.

Some of the floor fights have been deeply personal for Hirono, particularly during the 2017 ObamaCare repeal effort by Republicans.

Hirono delivered a speech from the floor in June 2017 in which she discussed her health battles after announcing a kidney cancer diagnosis a few months earlier. Hirono also appeared to hold back tears as she discussed her fears as an immigrant that her mother would fall ill and the death of her sister when she was a child in Japan.

Hirono is one of two Asian Americans in the Senate and the chamber’s only immigrant. She moved from Japan to Hawaii when she was seven years old and got her citizenship in 1959 when Hawaii became a state.

And while viral moments have earned her national attention, Hirono's colleagues also credit her with digging into unglamorous issues such as patents.

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsVoting rights, public health officials roll out guidelines to protect voters from COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US virus deaths exceed 100,000; Pelosi pulls FISA bill Warren's VP bid faces obstacle: Her state's Republican governor MORE (D-Del.), who serves with Hirono on the Judiciary Committee, said she has been “so wonderfully persistent and engaged.”

“She's not just a show horse. She's a workhorse. And Sen. Hirono is someone who digs into the details, does her homework and knows what she is talking about on arcane subjects … as well as more high-profile hearings,” Coons added.

Hirono points to disagreements with Trump as a factor for pushing her to embrace the media spotlight as a way to voice her opposition to the administration’s policies.

“There’s also a recognition that we do have to speak out, to push back against this administration. So I began to do more of that,” she said. “It’s been a journey because not all of us just kind of pop out and start popping off. ... You don’t see too many Asian people out there, Asian women.”

But she doesn’t limit her criticism to Republicans. Hirono was the second female senator to call on former Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenPolitical world mourns loss of comedian Jerry Stiller Maher to Tara Reade on timing of sexual assault allegation: 'Why wait until Biden is our only hope?' Democrats begin to confront Biden allegations MORE (D-Minn.) to resign over sexual misconduct allegations. And amid accusations of inappropriate touching by former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenStopping Israel's annexation is a US national security interest Trump slams Biden staff for donating bail money to protesters At least 4,400 people arrested in connection with protests: report MORE, she’s publicly urged him to recognize that his behavior has made some women uncomfortable and to change it.

“Women are socialized to be very nice and put up with a lot of things,” she told reporters last month. “I know that Joe Biden is not a sexual harasser. ... This kind of behavior is a habit. If someone points out that you have a habit, you can change it.”

As Hirono continued to speak with reporters in the Senate basement, Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) interrupted by putting his hands on two reporters’ shoulders and jokingly telling the group to “leave her alone, for God's sake. She’s just minding her own business. She’s a good person.”

As Kennedy quipped that she didn’t have to talk to reporters, Hirono sent him away by reassuring him that she was fine.

“I want to talk to these guys,” she added. “I’m totally free to defend myself. Thank you so much.”

Jacqueline Thomsen contributed.