WASHINGTON — Following is a statement made by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Monday during the first day of the confirmation hearing for Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s nominee to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Mr. Chairman, these are not normal times. Nearly 8 million Americans have contracted COVID-19, and tragically 215,000 people and counting have died from this disease. 12.5 million Americans are out of work. Tens of thousands more children are living in poverty, going hungry because their parents have lost their jobs and can’t afford to buy food. Hundreds of thousands of small businesses have closed their doors forever, shattering dreams and livelihoods.
The White House has become a COVID-19 hotspot driven by the president’s ongoing denial of how serious this pandemic is. Not even contracting the virus and being hospitalized seems to have shaken him back to reality.
In normal times, the Senate would be focusing our attention on passing legislation to help the millions of Americans suffering during this pandemic. But these are not normal times. Instead, Senate Republicans are rushing to put a nominee onto the Supreme Court to be the deciding vote to take healthcare away from millions of people. President Trump has been very clear about what he’s doing. He’s repeatedly promised to appoint Supreme Court justices who will strike down the ACA. And by nominating Judge Barrett, the president is keeping his promise.
In her speech at the White House COVID super-spreader event two weeks ago, Judge Barrett aligned herself with her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who twice voted to strike down the ACA. To help the president keep his promise, our Republican colleagues are rushing to confirm Judge Barrett in a hypocritical illegitimate process, mere weeks before the election. They want Judge Barrett seated just in time to hear the Republican lawsuit challenging the ACA a week after the election.
For Americans dealing with this pandemic, it must seem outrageous that Donald Trump and Senate Republicans are determined to take away their healthcare and are just as determined to do nothing to help Americans with a new COVID relief bill. And they’re right. It is outrageous, but it’s not surprising.
Republicans have made it clear for the past decade that repealing the Affordable Care Act is at the top of their hit list. We know this because a mere two weeks after assuming control of the House in 2011, Republicans voted to repeal the ACA for the first time. And over the next six years, Republican took at least 70 votes, 70 votes in Congress to eliminate provisions of the ACA or to repeal it altogether.
These repeal efforts culminated in the early morning hours of July 28, 2017, when our late colleague Sen. John McCain gave his dramatic thumbs-down and saved healthcare for millions by one vote, his vote. Faced with their 70 failures to get rid of the ACA in Congress, Republicans have taken to the courts. Right now, the Trump Administration and 18 Republican state attorneys general, including those from Texas, South Carolina, and Missouri, are at the Supreme Court right now, trying to strike down the ACA.
All arguments in the case are scheduled for Nov. 10, a mere week after Election Day. This latest legal effort has been turbo-charged because of death of our champion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, only three weeks ago. Her death has changed everything for Donald Trump and Senate Republicans. They are confident that victory at the Supreme Court is now within their grasp if the Senate confirms Judge Barrett through this hypocritical, illegitimate process.
The consequences of Judge Barrett’s confirmation would be devastating for millions of Americans who would lose their healthcare during this pandemic. Even in normal times, without the threat of a pandemic, no one in our country should have to confront a major illness, worried that it might bankrupt their family, but we all know these are not normal times. Healthcare is the number one concern for so many people in our country, and they are rightly terrified that Judge Barrett will provide the deciding vote to overturn the ACA and take away their healthcare share.
I want to share two of their stories today. Kimberly Dickens is from Raleigh, N.C. Before the Affordable Care Act, Kimberly couldn’t afford health insurance. Thankfully, the ACA enabled her to get healthcare. She used that coverage to get a checkup and a mammogram, which found her breast cancer. With her health insurance, she was able to get a mastectomy and has been cancer-free since.
Kimberly credits the ACA for saving her life. She said, “If it wasn’t for the Affordable Care Act, I probably wouldn’t have had that mammogram. I was diagnosed early. It scares me to think if I didn’t have insurance, how far advanced would the cancer have grown?” Kimberly’s story is not unique. In the years of all the battles of eliminating the ACA, we’ve heard from hundreds and thousands of constituents across the country, sharing their healthcare stories.
Dean Odo and his daughter, Jordan, are from my home state of Hawaii. Jordan, who is an elementary school teacher at Ewa Beach Elementary School, has PNH, a very rare blood condition. To treat this condition, she gets infusions of a special medicine that costs around 500,000 per year without insurance.
Dean told me that “without this medicine, she will die.” Dean and Jordan live in fear that Republicans will strike down the ACA, which would allow her insurance company to put lifetime caps on her benefits. And she would be left without coverage for her life-saving medication.
Dean wrote to me to share how “extremely terrified” he is about his daughter losing access to adequate healthcare under the ACA. He’s asked me to fight for her, and that’s what I’m doing today.
Healthcare is personal to Kimberly, Dean, Jordan, and it’s personal to me too, because I know that having health insurance and access to healthcare saved my life. On the day when the Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, I got a routine chest X-ray before a scheduled eye surgery, a shadow on that X-ray and a later scan led to my diagnosis of Stage 4 kidney cancer and gave me time to receive treatment. My diagnosis came as a total shock and I’m grateful it came when there was still time.
I still have cancer, but I don’t need any treatment right now. I receive regular scans so that I will know in time if treatment becomes necessary again. I’m grateful for the care I’ve received and continue to receive from my doctors. The cost of my treatment, which included surgery to remove a kidney, a second surgery to remove part of a rib replaced with a seven-inch titanium plate, almost two years of cutting edge immunotherapy and regular scans, has been enormous.
It would bankrupt almost every family in this country if they didn’t have health insurance. I’m not special or unique. Serious illness can hit anyone unexpectedly. It did for me. And when it does, no one should have to worry about whether they can afford care that might save their life. The Affordable Care Act provided this peace of mind for so many people over the years who found themselves in positions similar to mine. Their lives and their health are what’s at stake. Their lives are what’s at stake with this nomination.
And at moments like this, where the healthcare of millions is on the line, I think back to the care and concern so many of you showed me when I was diagnosed with cancer three and a half years ago. So many of you, including many of my Republican colleagues on this committee, wrote heartfelt notes, wishing me well and letting me know you were thinking of me.
And to this day, when the chairman of this committee (Sen. Lindsey Graham) and I find ourselves away from the cameras or sharing an elevator, he never hesitates to ask me about my health. About, he says, “How are you doing?” Mr. Chairman, you and I have had our pointed disagreements over the years, particular during our time together on this committee, but your concern means a lot to me.
Moments when we recognize our shared humanity are rare in Congress these days, but this can and should be one of those moments. This can be a moment, Mr. Chairman, for you and your Republican colleagues to show the American people terrified about losing their healthcare the same care and compassion you showed me and continue to show me when I was diagnosed with cancer. Instead of rushing to jam another ideologically driven nominee onto the Supreme Court in the middle of an election when over 9 million Americans have already voted.
Mr. Chairman, let’s end this hypocritical, illegitimate hearing, return to the urgent work we have before us to help those suffering during this pandemic. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.