Senate overwhelmingly votes to advance bill on anti-Asian hate crimes in a rare bipartisan move

  • Senate Republicans joined Democrats in voting to advance an anti-Asian hate crimes bill.
  • Wednesday’s move marked a rare bipartisan effort in an era of extreme political polarization.
  • The bill addresses a rise in violence against the AAPI community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In a rare bipartisan effort, the Senate on Wednesday pushed forward a bill that addresses the spike in discrimination and violence against Asian Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, led by Democrats Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Rep. Grace Meng of New York, would direct the Department of Justice to expedite the review of coronavirus-related hate crimes and improve public reporting on hate crimes during the public health crisis. 

Ninety-two senators voted in favor of a motion to advance the legislation, far exceeding the 60-vote requirement to overcome the filibuster — a remarkable show of unity around an issue that has recently been thrust into the national spotlight.

Only six Republicans — Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama — voted against the motion. The Senate will now move to start debate on the bill before it is considered for a final vote, but its passage remains uncertain. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer expressed optimism ahead of the vote on Wednesday, saying: “We should be able — and should really try in earnest — to reach a final resolution and pass the bill through the Senate very, very soon.”

Wednesday’s vote on the bill marked the first filibuster test of this Congress. Top Senate Democrats earlier this week urged their GOP colleagues to take up the bill without triggering the filibuster, a procedural tool often used by the minority party to delay or block passage of bills from the majority. Republicans were handed an opportunity to use their minority power in an evenly-divided Senate and halt part of President Joe Biden’s agenda, but ultimately decided not to. Biden has previously signaled his support for the bill’s passage.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he’s in favor of the bill, and would like to see some amendments tacked on.

“As a proud husband of an Asian American woman, I think this discrimination against Asian Americans is a real problem,” McConnell said during a Senate GOP leadership news conference, referencing his wife, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. “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.”

Schumer on Wednesday praised McConnell’s cooperation as a “very good thing,” saying: “I salute him for it.” 

The legislation was introduced in March after a mass shooting at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area killed eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent. The deadly attack sparked national outrage over the uptick in anti-Asian violence in the past year, coinciding with the spread of COVID-19 across the country and former President Donald Trump elevating terms such as “Chinese virus” and “kung flu.”

The nonprofit group Stop AAPI Hate has reported nearly 3,800 incidents of physical assault, shunning, verbal and online harassment, and civil rights violations against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in the US since March 2020.

“It’s very important we now have a president who speaks out and takes a stand,” Hirono said Tuesday during a news conference for the bill. “It is time for Congress to take a stand and pass this legislation.”

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