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Sen. Paul acknowledges holding up anti-lynching bill, says he fears it would be wrongly applied

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) arrives for a weekly Republican Senate policy luncheon on Capitol Hill last month. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) acknowledged Wednesday that he is holding up a bill with broad bipartisan support that would make lynching a federal hate crime, saying he fears it could allow enhanced penalties for altercations that result in only “minor bruising.”

Paul’s objection halted a measure that appeared on the verge of getting to the president’s desk earlier this year after more than a century of stymied attempts by Congress to pass anti-lynching legislation. And it comes amid a nationwide convulsion over the treatment of black Americans by law enforcement officers.

“We think that lynching is an awful thing that should be roundly condemned, that should be universally condemned,” Paul told reporters at the Capitol.

But he said the bill might “conflate lesser crimes with lynching,” which Paul said would be a “disservice to those who were lynched in our history” and result in “a new 10-year penalty for people who have minor bruising.”

House passes historic anti-lynching bill after Congress’s century of failure

“We don’t think that’s appropriate, and someone has to read these bills and make sure they do what they say they’re going to do rather than it be just a big PR effort, and then everybody gets up in arms and wants to beat up anybody who wants to read the bill and actually make the bill strong,” he said.

In a subsequent statement, Paul said that he is seeking to amend the legislation to create a new “serious bodily injury standard” that would ensure that only crimes resulting in a “substantial risk of death and extreme physical pain” can be prosecuted as lynching.

Aides said the current standard in federal law for “bodily injury” is too broad.

The hold on the legislation, which has been ongoing for a few months, was reported Tuesday night by the National Journal.

In late February, during Black History Month, the House passed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act on a 410-to-4 vote after oftentimes emotional floor debate.

Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), who sponsored the legislation, said the bill will “send a strong message that violence, and race-based violence in particular, has no place in American society.”

Supporters had hoped that the Senate would quickly take up the bill and pass it by unanimous consent — a procedure that would demonstrate widespread support but one that can be derailed by the objections of a single senator.

A separate version of the measure, the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, passed the Senate last year. It was introduced by the chamber’s three black senators: Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). But it did not pass in the House.

Paul aides said he had similar concerns when the Senate bill passed last year but was not present to express them.

Asked Wednesday what the status of the latest bill is, Paul said he is continuing to talk to its authors but said reporters should inquire with them as to where it stands.

Aides to Paul said he started pushing his amendment some time ago, but the issue drew little attention after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic as Congress focused on other matters.

Scott told Politico on Wednesday that one way to get the legislation to President Trump’s desk would be for the House to pick up the version previously passed by the Senate.

Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.

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