Senate passes Asian hate crimes bill, with McConnell’s early support

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David Catanese
·2 min read
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The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation on Thursday to spur greater reporting and review of anti-Asian hate crimes, an initiative that earned the early blessing of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The legislation, borne out of a spike in anti-Asian violence and harassment since the coronavirus pandemic emerged last year, offered a glimmer of bipartisanship after a largely divisive start to Joe Biden’s presidency.

The measure would empower the U.S. Attorney General to designate a person to review Covid-19 hate crimes and issue guidance to state and local law enforcement on how to establish online reporting of such incidents in multiple languages.

While three separate GOP amendments to alter the bill failed on the Senate floor, most Senate Republicans joined all Democrats in voting for final passage. The vote was 94-1. It now heads to the U.S. House.

“By passing this bill, we tell our law enforcement agencies to prioritize bigoted violence, and wield the sword of the law to detect, deter, and prosecute hate crimes of all variety,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

McConnell, whose wife Elaine Chao was born in Taiwan, expressed early support for the bill declaring discrimination against Asian Americans “a real problem.” Sen. Rand Paul, who was one of six Republicans to advance the bill, abstained from the final vote.

According to the nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate, there were 3,800 anti-Asian hate incidents between March of 2020 -- when the coronavirus began ravaging through the U.S. -- to February 2021. A Pew Research Center survey conducted earlier this month found that eight in ten Asian Americans say violence against them is increasing.

This legislation also directs the federal government to expand cultural and linguistic public education campaigns to combat discrimination.

“This will allow a little more intentionality on the part of the Department of Justice to at least get the full scope of the problem. Without that scope, it’s hard to attack the problem,” said Varun Nikore, executive director of the AAPI Victory Alliance. “People fear the other. And we’ve been made the other in our own country. We really need to have a national conversation and figure out the root causes of this and start chipping away at that.”

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said he initially opposed the bill because he claimed it imposed a “speech code” that could penalize Americans for describing the coronavirus for emanating in Wuhan, China.

“Calling this virus, which yes, came from Wuhan, China -- the Wuhan virus -- is not racist and it doesn’t incite violence,” Cotton said.

He credited Maine Sen. Susan Collins with changing the bill to ensure it doesn’t trample free speech.

Other proposed changes supported by McConnell failed, including a provision to prohibit federal funding for any college or university that discriminates against Asian Americans in the admissions process.