Normally Friendly Democratic Lawmakers Locked in Public Battle over Religious Freedom

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A political volcano erupted in Hawaii after Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard called out fellow Hawaii Democrat Sen. Mazie Hirono for attacking a judge’s membership in the Knights of Columbus.

As reported by The Western Journal, Hirono and Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California last month ripped into the Knights of Columbus during the confirmation hearing for Nebraska lawyer Brian C. Buescher, who was nominated by President Donald Trump to serve on the U.S. District Court for Nebraska.

Hirono called the opposition of the group to same-sex marriage an “extreme position” and wanted to know if Buescher would, if confirmed, leave the group to avoid the perception of bias.

On Tuesday, Gabbard unleashed a war of words with an Op-Ed in The Hill, saying too many politicians have “weaponized religion for their own selfish gain.”

Although she said she opposed Buescher’s nomination, Gabbard also wrote, “I stand strongly against those who are fomenting religious bigotry.”

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Impressive: Rep. Gabbard criticizes Hirono & Harris for their questions to nominee about Knights of Columbus: “…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.” https://t.co/Fp8tNNwpbv

— Christopher J. Scalia (@cjscalia) January 9, 2019

Hirono fired back the next day with a statement accusing Gabbard of being manipulated by the right-wing criticism that followed the comments from Hirono and Harris.

“Senator Hirono, asks all judicial nominees — particularly those who have expressed very strong personal ideological views in conflict with Supreme Court precedent — if they can be fair,” said Hirono spokesman Will Dempster, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “She asked Mr. Buescher, who has a clear record of anti-choice activism, whether or not he could separate his personal beliefs from decisions he would make if confirmed for a lifetime appointment on the federal bench.

Are you glad someone stood up to Sen. Mazie Hirono?

“Over the past two years, the senator has been attacked by right wing ideologues for her examination of Donald Trump’s ideologically-driven nominees to the courts. It is unfortunate that Congresswoman Gabbard based her misguided opinion on the far-right wing manipulation of these straightforward questions.”

The Gabbard camp said the only right involved was the right to worship.

“Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard respects Senator Mazie Hirono, but we must always 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,” said a statement from Gabbard’s office.

“No nominee for public service should be disqualified, either directly or indirectly because of their religion or religious affiliation. She will always fight for religious freedom and oppose religious bigotry — no matter where it comes from or to whom it’s directed, be they Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, or atheists,” the statement said.

Colin Moore, director of the Public Policy Center at University of Hawaii Manoa, called Gabbard’s taking Hirono to task “unheard of.”

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“You could characterize her as an independent thinker or a bit reckless,” he said. “It may also be personal to her. She’s a Hindu and her father is quite religious.”

Hirono, however, told The Hill that there is talk that Gabbard was jockeying for position prior to her announcement that she wants to run for the Democratic nomination for president. Gabbard announced Friday that she is seeking the White House in 2020.

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When we stand together, united by our love for each other and for our country, there is no challenge we cannot overcome. Will you join me? #TULSI2020 https://t.co/bymLSiaRkF

— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) January 12, 2019

Hirono, however, hedged on whether that was her own position on Gabbard’s Op-Ed.

“Other people have made that suggestion,” Hirono said. “I’m not inside her head but what I do know is that her piece has resulted in all these alt-right groups that have been criticizing me for quite a while now over my questioning as to the fairness of these nominees — the alt-right groups are flocking to her defense. So if that’s what she wanted, that’s what she’s getting.”

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Lol: “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’” https://t.co/J1j9BJ0ihr

— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) January 11, 2019

One commentator said Gabbard would not have written the column lightly.

“I know that Gabbard is a very cautious politician and doesn’t take stands on a whim, so I would expect that she has some polling research to back up her stand and attacks,” said Richard Borreca, a political columnist at the Star-Advertiser.

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