The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the rushed confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, on top of other crises from racial injustice to climate change, are some of the reasons why Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii is urging eligible Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) voters to cast their ballots on or before November 3.
Asian Journal (AJ): We saw how you voted [on Monday] against confirming Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. But for those at home who are feeling defeated, what’s next for them?
Sen. Hirono: We need to keep fighting, standing up because while we lost the battle to not have Judge Barrett on the Supreme Court — because she will strike down the ACA and so many other protections that we have long fought for — that’s not the war. Frankly, to me, what’s most important is for everyone to vote because this is the most consequential election of our lifetime and we have very clear choices.
On one hand, we have Trump, who’s the most anti-immigrant president ever, and on the other, we have Joe Biden who cares about all Americans, including immigrants and he has a plan for a path to citizenship…So the choices are clear and we cannot be discouraged. We have to keep fighting and I think the Filipino community knows that. When I was working on the Congressional Gold Medal for Filipino veterans and told the story over and over, how valiantly they fought beside us, I know how hard Filipinos work and fight for everything they have.
AJ: We saw this rushed process, while the country is nine months into this pandemic. You have a large Asian American/Filipino American community back home in Hawaii who are frontliners, whether in the medical field or in other services. What message does this sent as to what the priorities are?
Hirono: The fact that the Republicans wanted to get Barrett on the court so she can strike down the Affordable Care Act, thereby, taking health care for millions and millions of people in our country, including over 100 million with pre-existing conditions, is unconscionable. We should have been working on a COVID bill that actually helps people, which is what the House did when they passed the HEROES Act over four months ago and Mitch McConnell just sat on it. It shows the misplaced priorities that the Republicans have. I’m going to continue to stand with all the Democrats to call for a new COVID bill that will help all of the AAPI communities. Lots of them are small business owners who are really struggling so we need to get another bill that will support our workers, our unemployed, our small businesses, our families, our states and counties that are facing huge shortfalls. By the way, Nevada and Hawaii share a lot in common because our [economies] are tourism-based, and our states have been hard-hit economically.
Joe Biden would have a plan to get this pandemic under control because we can’t get our economy back up in any sense of normalcy unless we get this pandemic under control — something that the president refuses to even acknowledge.
AJ: Since you brought up tourism, we know that the local economy in Hawaii is dependent on it and they’re loosening up restrictions. Folks are wanting to go on a mini-vacation. What’s the balance between maintaining public safety while wanting to help the economy and get these people back to work?
Hirono: It’s a slow reopening of business activity in our state and on Oahu, and this is why those people who are able to get pre-tested negative before coming to Hawaii is one way our state is approaching the resumption of tourism in a safer manner as possible. But it’s still a trickle compared to what it used to be. As I said, we need a national program for getting this pandemic under control. There’s no national testing, there’s no national contact tracing, there’s no national anything. The hospitals are seeing shortages now because when you have 80,000 people in our country every day testing positive, that’s unsustainable that our hospitals are being stretched to the limit in many places, especially in rural areas where they don’t have access to this kind of care to begin with.
AJ: Will there be a number threshold for people to start to take this seriously? We are over 8 million cases now and counting.
Hirono: This is why leadership from the top matters. You have Trump, who you would think after contracting the virus, would have learned a thing or two. He still doesn’t talk about how one of the best preventative measures is to wear a mask and he still continues to have super spreader events…You need a president who takes this pandemic seriously, who will say, ‘We need to wear masks, we need to do social distancing, we need to avoid large gatherings.’ He actually makes fun of Joe Biden for taking these precautions which is what we’re gonna need.
AJ: You mentioned that the step to this is to vote. We’ve seen national surveys that say the Asian American community is highly motivated compared to previous cycles and they’re going in with health care and jobs in mind. How do we maintain this momentum? How has the Democratic Party and the Biden campaign been successful in targeting the community?
Hirono: I know they have a number of outreach efforts throughout the AAPI community so there’s a lot of grassroots and hundreds and hundreds of volunteers, making phone calls and concerted get-out-the-vote efforts. Especially during this pandemic, it’s so important for everyone to either mail in their ballots…and early vote. There was a time when voting wasn’t two or three hours standing in line and in all weather kind of experience. But is and it’s heartening to see so many people willing to do that, knowing full well that Trump and the Republicans are doing everything they can to suppress the vote. There are something like 70 lawsuits going on across our country where they’re trying to shorten the timeframe for when votes can be counted, to requiring new IDs to not putting up ballot boxes…Now, people are not taking the importance of their votes for granted.
AJ: There is a lot going on. What has kept you a bit hopeful during this pandemic?
Hirono: The chance to change the trajectory of our country, going from chaos and corruption and anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration to a Joe Biden and Kamala Harris team, where you have decency, empathy and listening to scientists, and you have a fact-based way to move us forward. But truly to take back democracy because Trump is an authoritarian and he’s doing everything he can to suppress the vote and not have every vote counted. We need to fight back — every single one of us, we can do something with our votes.
AJ: We have a few days left and the community is mobilizing. Should the Biden-Harris ticket be elected, what would that mean for AAPI representation?
Hirono: There are AAPI groups who are advocating for a very diverse kind of leadership and in a Biden-Harris team. Kamala was the first person running for president who an AAPI plan that has to do with comprehensive immigration reform and changes to family-based immigration policies so she will bring her considerable talent and background on these issues to the ticket. There’s going to be so much work to be done to one, get control of this pandemic, and two, to bring a divided country together and to face really the major crisis. We have a pandemic, we have a health care crisis, we have an economic crisis due to the pandemic, we have a racism crisis and we have a climate crisis. These are all crises that the Trump administration has not helped in any way, shape, or form except to make it worse.
I know that the Biden-Harris administration will address all of those issues. It’s not going to change overnight but this is how we start by having a whole new administration.