WASHINGTON — Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), battling stage-four kidney cancer, made an emotional plea to Republican colleagues ahead of Thursday night’s vote on the “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act. The bill was defeated 51-49.
“Here I am a United States senator, I am fighting kidney cancer and I’m just so grateful that I had health insurance so I could concentrate on the care that I needed rather than how the heck I was going to afford the care that was probably going to save my life,” Hirono said.
At times Hirono fought back tears as she shared a story about her childhood in Japan. Hirono, the only Japanese American in the Senate, was born on a rice farm in Fukushima Prefecture and left when she was eight years old.
“I was born at home in rural Japan,” she said. “I lost a sister to pneumonia when she was only 2 years old in Japan. She died at home. Not in a hospital where maybe her life could have been saved.”
She continued to talk about her life growing up as an immigrant living in America and how she feared her mother would become ill and run out of money. Hirono’s mother took her children to Hawaii to flee her husband, who was a chronic gambler and an alcoholic.
“Growing up in Hawaii, my greatest fear as a young girl was if my mother got sick. And if she got sick, how would we pay for her care?” Hirono said.
Hirono, who is running for re-election next year, noted that she received notes of encouragement from her colleagues, including Republicans, during her treatment earlier this year.
“You showed me your care, you showed me your compassion. Where is that tonight?” she said, banging her fist on the table. “I can’t believe that a single senator in this body has not faced an illness — or whose family member or loved one has not faced illness — where they were so grateful they had health care.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), recently diagnosed with brain cancer, cast the decisive vote to kill the legislation, joining 48 Democrats and Republican Sens. Lisa Murowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said afterwards, “This is a disappointment, a disappointment indeed. Our constituents have suffered through an awful lot under Obamacare, we thought they deserved better, which is why I, and many of my colleagues, did as we promised, voted to repeal this failed law.”
After the vote on Thursday night, Hirono tweeted: “Tonight, Senate Republicans were on the brink of denying health care to millions. You made sure that didn’t happen. But the work continues. We can’t let three heroic votes be for naught.”