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House sends anti-Asian hate crimes bill to Biden

The measure would overhaul federal tracking of hate crimes

Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a Tuesday news conference on the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a Tuesday news conference on the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

A bipartisan bill meant to target a rise in violence against Asian Americans and make it easier to report hate crimes cleared the House on Tuesday, sending the measure to President Joe Biden for his signature.

The 364-62 vote followed a monthslong push spearheaded by the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus to address perceived shortfalls in the federal response to a spike in hate crimes directed at Asian Americans since the start of the pandemic. The advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate has tracked more than 6,600 cases of verbal attacks, physical assaults and other incidents targeted at Asian Americans from March 2020 to March 2021.

“Since the start of this pandemic, Asian Americans have been terrified by the near daily attacks in our communities … [which] brought national attention to this issue, but it also showed that our national response to combating hate crimes is lacking,” CAPAC Chair Judy Chu, D-Calif., said on the House floor.

The Senate passed the bill last month, 94-1, after a number of amendments were added, including one incorporating language from a proposal by Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr., D-Va., to update the nation’s hate crimes tracking law.

[Senate passes AAPI bill with wide bipartisan support]

The amended bill would create local grant programs for tracking hate crimes as well as the creation of state hate crime hotlines. Local jurisdictions would have to follow federal hate crime definitions in reporting incidents or be forced to pay back the funds.

During a news conference before the vote, Chu praised Biden administration efforts to recognize the problem, including an executive memorandum signed early in his term to address hate crimes against Asian Americans. Chu and other Democrats have said former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric surrounding the coronavirus origins in China worsened such attacks.

“[That] was a huge step after a year of being totally ignored by President Trump, who actually doubled down on his usage of the term ‘China virus,’” Chu said.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden was “pleased” to see the bill’s passage.

“He looks forward to signing this important legislation into law at the White House later this week,” she said in a tweet.

On Tuesday, the House also planned to take up a resolution condemning a March shooting in the Atlanta area, where a gunman killed eight people, six of whom were Asian American women.

Republican objections

Passage of the hate crimes bill came over the objections of Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and other Republicans. Jordan argued that the bill created vague categories of offensive conduct and muddied the waters between that and criminal behavior.

“This means essentially that we are asking state governments to act as speech police and creates a precedent that could extend to any manner of things someone may deem offensive,” he said.

Jordan pushed back on Democrats’ arguments that Trump contributed to the rise in assaults through his use of racist language to describe the origins of the coronavirus. Instead, Jordan blamed the increase on efforts to defund police departments in Democratic-controlled cities.

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Advocacy groups such as Stop AAPI Hate have tracked the increase of assaults and other incidents to January 2020, months before nationwide protests over police brutality and subsequent reductions in some police department budgets. Federal statistics about hate crimes in 2020 have not yet been released.

[Asian American communities fall behind in pandemic recovery]

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, also spoke against the measure for increasingly “divvying us up by race” in federal statute. He argued that the bill spared efforts to prosecute and actually stop the crimes underlying racial animus.

The two Asian American Republicans in the House, California Reps. Michelle Steel and Young Kim, spoke in favor of the legislation. Both, however, said Democrats could have done more to reach out for Republican support and address the minority’s objections.

Todd Ruger contributed to this report.

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