Responding to a surge in racist attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders fueled by racist rhetoric from former President Donald Trump and the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Senate on Thursday nearly unanimously approved a bill aimed at fighting anti-AAPI hate—with Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri casting the sole dissenting vote.
In a rare display of overwhelming Senate bipartisanship, the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, sponsored by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii)—who in 2013 became the first Asian American woman elected to the upper chamber—passed by a vote of 94-1.
“This historic, bipartisan vote… is a powerful message of solidarity to our AAPI community,” Hirono said following the measure’s passage. “Now, I urge the House to swiftly pass this legislation so President [Joe] Biden can sign it into law.”
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), the only other Asian American woman currently in the Senate, recalled racist harassment endured by her mother and said that “this bill will allow me to go home to my mom and say we did something.”
Hawley, a potential 2024 Republican presidential contender who helped incite the deadly January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and was one of the leading peddlers of the lie that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from Trump, offered no immediate response to queries about his “no” vote.
However, according to The Hill, Hawley previously told reporters he was concerned with the bill’s scope, calling the measure “hugely open-ended.”
“It just you know the ability and power to define crimes, to define incidents going forward, and collect all that data, it just seemed hugely, hugely overbroad,” he said.
AAPI advocates, however, welcomed the bill’s passage. Advancing Justice-AAJC told Politico the bill would “provide much-needed support for individuals and communities impacted by hate and discrimination.”
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights issued a statement applauding the Senate for “recognizing the urgency of this moment and the need to improve hate crimes reporting and invest in communities targeted for hate.”
“More accurate reporting and data would help to create community-centered solutions to prevent and report hate crimes and help law enforcement carry out its duty to protect and serve communities targeted for hate,” the group said, adding that “we… call on the House of Representatives to pass this important legislation so the president can sign it into law.”
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