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Kansas Republican Sen. Roger Marshall and Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley were two of only six lawmakers to vote Wednesday evening against advancing legislation intended to curb hate crimes against Asian Americans.
The Senate voted 92 to 6 to advance the measure from Hawaii Democratic Sen. Maize Hirono, which orders the Department of Justice to “facilitate the expedited review of COVID–19 hate crimes” following a recent string of high-profile attacks against Asian Americans.
The bill also includes a provision instructing the attorney general and secretary of Health and Humans Services to issue guidance “describing best practices to mitigate racially discriminatory language in describing the COVID–19 pandemic.”
Hawley’s office did not respond to a question Wednesday evening about his vote against the bill, but on Thursday he explained his concerns about the bill’s scope.
“The bill is hugely broad, hugely open-ended, mandates all of this data collection in expansive categories that the federal government will collect and maintain. That concerns me,” Hawley told the Senate press pool. “And the power to define crimes, define incidents going forward and collect all that data it just seems hugely, hugely open-ended.”
Marshall voted no because there is already a federal hate crime law prohibiting attacks based on race and national origin and because Attorney General Merrick Garland has already launched a review of hate crime enforcement, his office said.
Hawley and Marshall have been outspoken critics of the Chinese government’s handling of the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other Senate Republicans to vote against the legislation were Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville.
Kansas state Rep. Rui Xu, a Westwood Democrat who has spoken out about his own experiences with anti-Asian racism during the pandemic, said he was disappointed but not surprised by Marshall’s vote.
“I think at this point Roger Marshall has only been a caricature of a cultural conservative and has shown no ability to empathize with someone outside of his political bubble,” Xu said.
Xu blamed a rise in anti-Asian sentiment on statements from former President Donald Trump calling COVID-19 the “China virus.” He said the two Kansas City area senators likely did not want to offend Trump’s base by supporting the bill.
“I think we’ve seen going back to the Jan. 6 insurrection that these are two peas in a pod,” Xu said, referencing Marshall and Hawley’s votes to overturn the presidential election.
The Wednesday vote was preliminary. Final action could take place as early this week.
Hawley cast doubt Thursday that the amendment process would address his concerns and narrow the bill.
The final version of the legislation is expected to include an amendment from Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran and Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
It would improve national reporting on hate crimes, provide grants to local law enforcement agencies to train officers on identifying and investigating hate crimes and to establish hate crime hot lines.
“Violence is never acceptable, especially when targeted towards a specific community,” Moran said Tuesday. “Hate crimes have no place in our society and this bill to improve reporting on the incidences in which they do occur is a step forward in better understanding how to address them.”
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican candidate for governor, led a bipartisan letter from state attorneys general in support of Moran’s legislation, which will be offered as amendment to Hirono’s bill as leaders from both parties look to craft a consensus package.
The United Nations and FBI have both warned about a rise in attacks against the Asian American community during th pandemic.
A report last month from Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit which works to combat racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, said that the group has received reports of 3,292 incidents of hate against Asian Americans in 2020.