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Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono Discusses Supreme Court Vacancy

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It is getting harder and harder to see how the express train that is Mitch McConnell and other Republicans might get derailed. McConnell, the Senate majority leader, wants a floor vote on a Supreme Court nominee by the end of the year. As of today, it looks like he has locked up the votes he needs. Mitt Romney of Utah became the latest Republican senator to announce he backs voting to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. So outnumbered in the Senate and with President Trump in the White House, what, if anything, can Democrats do? Well, let's put that question to one of the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, which holds Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

Senator, welcome.

MAZIE HIRONO: Glad to be with you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Is there anything you or your party can do to stop this from proceeding?

HIRONO: We can look at whatever tools we have in our toolkit. But for me, the biggest tool that we have is to make sure that the American people understand what is at stake with this new nominee. And what is at stake is their very healthcare because the Supreme Court is going to take up the Affordable Care Act in November. The next Supreme Court justice picked by Trump will be someone who will strike down the Affordable Care Act. Millions of people will no longer have health insurance. And you have millions of people with preexisting conditions currently being protected by the ACA who will no longer be protected.

KELLY: So you're talking about messaging and making sure that Americans understand the stakes. But in terms of actually stopping this vote from proceeding, is there any other tool in your toolbox?

HIRONO: We can slow things down. We can do certain things. But the fact of the matter is that Mitch McConnell has the votes. But you know, we're going to fight back because this is not the end. The people will need to decide who they want back here making decisions that will impact their lives. And are they going to vote back people who can't even keep their word about a Supreme Court nomination in the last year before an election or during an election?

KELLY: You're referring to the many comments made in 2016.

HIRONO: Oh, many.

KELLY: Let me ask you how you plan to proceed. Will you participate in the confirmation hearings, or will you boycott?

HIRONO: I haven't decided that yet, but I am definitely raising my voice every chance I can. That's why I am on your program - to let people know that the clear and present danger with this nomination process and the speed with which they're pushing it through is their very healthcare in the middle of a pandemic.

KELLY: So possibility that you will boycott. It sounds like you're leaving that open. Will you meet with President Trump's nominee?

HIRONO: I have taken the position that with this president, all of his nominees - Supreme Court nominees and judicial nominees - whatever they have to say to me should be said under oath. And that's what I expect to do. So I want them under oath before a committee.

KELLY: So this tradition, just to explain to people not familiar with the ways these things have traditionally unfolded, is the nominee would make the rounds, would go meet senators in their offices. You're saying...

HIRONO: Yes.

KELLY: ...Uh-uh, if you want to talk to me, let's do it under oath.

HIRONO: That was my position with Kavanaugh.

KELLY: Right.

HIRONO: And that continues to be my position with regard to court nominees.

KELLY: Let me ask you this. Can you say, hand over heart, that Democrats would do any different if it were your party that controlled the White House and the Senate?

HIRONO: Yes, because I like to keep my word. I don't say one thing and keep a Supreme Court open for 11 months and say another thing just because it's a Republican president.

KELLY: But just to focus on this operation, where we are in 2020 with the election where it is, if it were a Democratic nominee from a Democratic president under a Democratic-controlled Senate, do you think Democrats would do different?

HIRONO: I think so. I certainly would. And that's because truth matters to us. Keeping our word matters to us. And I just always marvel at the way the Republicans can project all of their attitudes and their failure to keep their words on the Democrats. They do that all the time. And so there - you know, that's no justification to say, oh, by the way, we're doing this really rotten, unfair thing to the people of America. But, you know what? If you were in our position, you'd do the same thing. Are you kidding?

That is why this election is so important because the American people are going to get to decide, Mary Louise, whether they want a bunch of people who can't even keep their word, a president who lies every single day or a team that will tell the American people the truth, get a handle on the COVID situation. All that - there's a choice to be made in this election, Mary Louise. And I'm going to be out there, making sure that everybody knows what's at stake.

KELLY: We just have 30 seconds or so left. But let me ask this. Have you reached across the aisle to try to persuade your Republican colleagues to wait?

HIRONO: I know that some of my colleagues have been doing that. And I've watched my colleagues too often not have a conscience, not to do the right thing. I would be great - but I would be happy if two more Republicans changed their mind and grew a conscience. I'm not holding my breath. This is why if we talk about making changes and reforms to the Supreme Court - I've talked about that - thought about that a long time.

KELLY: OK.

HIRONO: The Democrats will have to take back the Senate.

KELLY: Thank you so much for your time, Sen. Hirono. We appreciate it.

HIRONO: OK. Thank you.

KELLY: That is Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.