Schumer Plans Senate Action This Week on Hate Crimes Bill

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he wants the chamber to act this week on legislation to combat hate crimes against Asian-Americans and is willing to broaden its scope to win Republican support.

There has been “an awful rising tide” of attacks on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders since the coronavirus pandemic started, Schumer said Tuesday at a news conference. Every day they fear “they might be assaulted, insulted or even worse.”

The Senate measure would direct the Justice Department to designate an official to speed review of Covid-19-related hate crimes reported to federal, state or local officials and call on the department to coordinate with state and local law enforcement agencies to establish online reporting of hate crimes and expand public education campaigns to prevent attacks.

Its lead sponsors, including Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, said it was prompted sparked by a wave of attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders over the past year.

After a closed-door meeting of all Senate Republicans on Tuesday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he anticipates enough GOP senators will support Schumer’s plan to bring up the bill so that debate can start on Wednesday. He said he wants an opportunity for amend the legislation before a final vote.

“I’m hoping we can work out an agreement to get on the bill in a normal way, have some amendments and move to final passage,” McConnell told reporters.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he will support opening debate on the matter and that he anticipates Schumer and McConnell could negotiate a compromise on final language.

Schumer said he wants to amend the bill by adding a bipartisan piece of legislation that addresses hate crimes more broadly by streamlining reporting systems used by law enforcement, providing grants to better train law enforcement on probing possible hate crimes and creating a hate crimes hotline. That legislation was introduced days ago by Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Republican Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas.

Schumer called it “a good amendment” that could be added to the legislation.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would begin work on companion legislation next week.

GOP Senator Susan Collins of Maine said Monday that she is generally supportive of what Hirono and other Democrats are seeking, but said she thought it “rather odd” that it only pertained to Covid-related hate crimes against AAPI citizens. She said the bill has “drafting problems” she wanted to help address.

Former President Donald Trump and some of his allies routinely called Covid-19 the “Chinese virus” or the “Wuhan Virus” because of its origins, and Asian-American leaders say that inflamed prejudice that resulted in violence.

The effort to approve a hate-crimes measure accelerated in the wake of last month’s shootings by a white gunman at three Atlanta-area spas that left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent as well as other widely publicized attacks on individuals.

After the shootings, President Joe Biden called for Congress to pass hate crimes legislation.

An estimated 3,800 hate crime incidents against people of Asian descent were recorded between March 19, 2020 -- around when lock downs started -- and Feb. 28, 2021, according to the tracking initiative Stop AAPI Hate. Most were verbal harassment and shunning, but 11% of them were instances of physical assault.

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