Senate moves toward bipartisan endgame on AAPI hate crimes legislation

Legislation has support from both caucus leaders, more

A staffer walks through the small Senate rotunda in the Capitol on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
A staffer walks through the small Senate rotunda in the Capitol on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted April 19, 2021 at 4:38pm

The Senate is on track to vote this week on an expanded version of a bill to address a rise in violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, as a House committee plans work on its own similar legislation Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York said on the floor Monday that several proposed amendments to Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie K. Hirono’s legislation would be wrapped into a substitute amendment that would get a vote “in the coming days.”

“We’re seeing that when the Senate is given the opportunity to work the Senate can work,” Schumer said. “Members from both sides of the aisle have worked together over the past week to consider, perfect and soon enact legislation responding to a pressing issue.”

That includes Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins working with Hirono on “a few modifications” to the bill that Democrats welcomed, Schumer said. Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock sought the inclusion of language that acknowledges the shooting spree in the Atlanta area last month that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent.

Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran incorporated some feedback from South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott on their bill, which Schumer said would “strengthen and improve” the Hirono bill.

Schumer said he wanted to maintain bipartisan momentum after the Senate voted 92-6 to start the quick floor action on the bill, aimed at countering rising anti-Asian hate crime.

“Senators of goodwill from both sides of the aisle have taken note and developed proposals to give federal law enforcement officials the tools that they add to better detect, prevent and prosecute this surge in hate crimes,” Schumer said.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on the floor that Schumer’s hope is for a vote Wednesday and that he is confident the bill will pass.

“Earnest bipartisan conversations have improved this legislation considerably behind the scenes,” McConnell said.

Republican Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Tom Cotton of Arkansas wrote a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard J. Durbin of Illinois to ask for a committee hearing on the issue of anti-Asian hate crime.

Durbin, along with Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, responded with a letter that points out that request came only after Schumer sought action on the Hirono bill on the floor.

“While we are committed to the Committee’s continued fact-finding work on the appalling rise in hate crimes and extremist violence against AAPI Americans, there is already an ample record that justifies floor action on the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, and we will not support efforts to delay or derail its floor consideration,” the letter from Durbin and Booker states.

The House will go through the committee process on two bills Tuesday. The House Judiciary Committee will mark up that chamber’s version of the Hirono bill, introduced by New York Democratic Rep. Grace Meng, and a version of the Blumenthal and Moran bill, introduced by Virginia Democratic Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr.

The legislation from Hirono and Meng, among other provisions, would designate a point person at the Justice Department to expedite the review of violent hate crimes motivated by the actual or perceived relationship to the spread of COVID-19 and seek to ease reporting of such incidents.

And the bill from Blumenthal, Moran and Beyer, among other provisions, would create grants for state and local governments to combat hate crimes.

Also in the House

Meanwhile, the House plans to take up a bill to admit the District of Columbia into the union as a state named Washington, Douglass Commonwealth. The legislation would shrink the federal district to a nearly 2-square-mile capital enclave.

A pair of immigration-related bills is also on the agenda. One measure would curb the executive branch’s authority to issue travel bans, including prohibitions based on religion. The House passed the bill with two Republican votes last July, but it didn’t move forward in the Senate.

The other measure is aimed at people with travel documents who are stopped for a second inspection when entering the country. The bill would provide them with access to a lawyer.

Erin Bacon, Sean Michael Newhouse and Suzanne Monyak contributed to this report.