Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), the main sponsor of the hate-crime legislation, told reporters Tuesday that she is willing to broaden her bill to more thoroughly capture varied instances of anti-Asian crimes.
“The whole point is that there is a connection between covid and the rise of these hate crimes. We wanted to make sure that everyone understood there’s a cause and effect here, but I’m open to eliminating that so that we can get to the real issue, which is the rise in hate crimes against AAPIs,” Hirono said, using the abbreviation for Asian American Pacific Islander.
She introduced the bill last month, after a mass shooting at three Atlanta-area spas left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent. The crime heightened the pressure on Congress to respond to the rise in attacks against the Asian American community a year after the deadly coronavirus was first found in China.
With Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) as the lead House sponsor, the legislation would assign an official in the Justice Department to review and expedite all reports of hate crimes related to the coronavirus, expand support for local and state law enforcement agencies responding to these hate crimes, and issue guidance on mitigating the use of racially discriminatory language to describe the pandemic.
Republicans at first hesitated to adopt a position on the legislation, which carefully avoids any mention of former president Donald Trump’s comments about “Kung Flu” and “the China virus” as possible inspiration for attacks on Asian Americans — but the inference is easily understood.
By Tuesday, however, Republicans had largely rallied around a broader, bipartisan bill that would streamline federal law enforcement responses to all hate crimes, including creating a hotline and a program to rehabilitate offenders.
They were seeking a deal to merge that legislation with the Hirono-led bill, giving hope for the passage of a broader bill this week.
“Is there Republican support, broad support, for my amendment? I don’t know anything to the contrary, but we’re running those traps as well,” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who co-sponsored the “No Hate Act” with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), told reporters Tuesday.
“These two bills, the Hirono bill and my [No Hate Act], are very simple and straightforward. There’s been public comment on the issue. There’s no need for a formal hearing. And, in fact, there are a number of amendments that can make it very bipartisan,” Blumenthal said.
The first test vote is likely to come Wednesday afternoon, when overwhelming approval is expected, but there still is concern that the legislation could become bogged down by Republican demands to have other, extraneous amendments that would derail the bipartisan effort.
“There’s no agreement yet, because there’s no known number of amendments,” Moran said.
Given the political environment this year, Democrats were bracing for Republican resistance to the legislation. As lawmakers returned Monday from a more than two-week spring break, not a single Republican had signed on to support it.
“You would think that all the Republicans would condemn the hate crimes that are being targeted against AAPI, but not enough of them have spoken up,” Hirono told reporters Monday evening.
But after some internal discussion, Republicans emerged from their Tuesday policy luncheon convinced that this was an issue that should not be blocked by a GOP filibuster, with the issue resonating at home for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose wife, former Trump Cabinet secretary Elaine Chao, is of Chinese descent.
“I can tell you, as a proud husband of an Asian American woman, I think this discrimination against Asian Americans is a real problem. And it preceded the murders that were recently on full display, and I’m hoping we can work out an agreement,” McConnell said.