Senate breaks filibuster on Asian-American hate crime bill
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate opened a debate on Wednesday on laws to combat potential hate crimes against Asian Americans, a growing problem during the coronavirus crisis that will also consider whether the chamber can promote partisanship on an issue that is important to many voters .
In general, the Democrat-sponsored COVID-19 hate crime law could quickly face a filibuster that Republicans who prefer a different approach face. However, under the Senate leaders' deal earlier this year, Republicans and Democrats pledged to at least try to discuss bills to see if they could reach an agreement through the legislative process.
The Senators overwhelmingly voted 92-6 to proceed with the bill on Wednesday.
Prior to the vote, several leaders of the Asia-American and Pacific Islander community in Congress shared personal and heartbreaking stories about the racism they and their constituents faced, events that were on the rise during the virus outbreak.
"For more than a year the Asian-American community has been battling two crises - the COVID-19 pandemic and anti-Asian hatred," said Rep. Grace Meng, DN.Y., co-author of the law, at the Capitol on Tuesday.
Meng described well-documented but "terrible" pictures of people being pushed and beaten in public attacks and of their own conversations with survivors, including the families of victims of deadly shootings in Atlanta last month. Six of those killed were women of Asian origin.
“Fighting hatred shouldn't be a partisan issue. It's about the safety of all Americans, ”Meng said.
The bill is the most substantial response by Congress to an alarming rise in racist sentiment towards Asian Americans, fueled in part by derogatory language about the virus' origin in China. Donald Trump, as President, played into this narrative with derisive nicknames for the virus. The moment harks back to earlier epochs of racism against Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, and other Asian heritages in this country.
The White House released an administrative policy statement on Wednesday that "strongly supports" the passage of the law. "Elected leaders must act to prevent anti-Asian violence and promote inclusion and inclusion for all Asian-American communities," it said.
Senate Republicans have been scrutinizing the legislation for various flaws, but most have been reluctant to exercise the filibuster to block them. A contradiction could expose the senators to claims that they are insensitive to race.
Republican Senate Chairman Mitch McConnell, as "the proud husband of an Asian American, said I think this discrimination against Asian Americans is a real problem."
McConnell is married to Elaine Chao, the former transportation secretary, and said Tuesday he hopes to work out an agreement with the Democrats to at least discuss the bill and consider possible changes.
The last passage, however, remains uncertain.
Any Senator can stop the process, and it takes 60 votes in the Senate, 50% Democratic-Republican, to overcome a filibuster. Six Republicans voted against the bill's move on Wednesday, including Sens. Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, all potential hopes for the president.
Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said he was open to changes to the bill. He is in talks with McConnell about a package of amendments that aides said could be considered.
"We cannot and must not be silent," said Schumer on Tuesday. "There's no reason, no reason, this shouldn't be a bipartisan bill that the Senate passes."
A robust floor debate is rare for the Senate, which has stalled due to ubiquitous partisanship. The stalemate has compounded calls by Democrats to change the filibuster rules to overcome the opposition. Schumer and McConnell had shied away from taking this step and reached a preliminary agreement earlier this year to try to break stalemates and allow Senators to discuss and amend bills.
Several GOP senators, who left a caucus lunch on Tuesday, said they were still studying the legislation and proposing amendments to see what they would support.
"I don't think we should allow this type of hate crime, whether it's women or Asian-Americans, so we'll look at the text," said Senator Joni Ernst, R-Iowa said she didn't know about "bigger ones." Objections "of the Republicans.
While the legislation is timely, it is also modest, which proponents see as the first step in a federal response to the rise in hate crimes in Asia and America. It would appoint a key person within the Department of Justice to expedite the investigation of hate crimes related to COVID-19 and to assist local law enforcement agencies in responding to such incidents. The department would also work to limit the discriminatory language used to describe the pandemic.
A bipartisan change would increase law enforcement support, and others are expected.
Senator Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, co-author of the bill, shared her own experience. She said she was uncomfortable walking with her headphones and listening to audiobooks because of the attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific islanders in the United States.
She hopes Republicans will support the bill.
"An attack on a group in our country is really an attack on all of us," she said.
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