A bill meant to address the rise of hate crimes and violence against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic advanced in the U.S. Senate on a bipartisan vote on Wednesday — but its future remains murky, given tepid support from Republicans.
The legislation, introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), would expedite a federal review of coronavirus-related hate crimes, expand public reporting of such incidents, and provide guidance detailing best practices to “mitigate racially discriminatory language in describing the COVID–19 pandemic.”
The vote to begin debate on the measure was 92-6.
Republicans only backed the initial vote on the condition they would have an opportunity to offer amendments. Their continued support will ultimately depend on whether top Senate leaders can agree on which amendments the chamber will consider in the coming days.
“In consultation with the Republican leader, we can work out an agreement on other germane, non-gotcha amendments to the bill if senators have them,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a floor speech on Wednesday. “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.”
One amendment with bipartisan support is being offered by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas). Their bill, called the No Hate Act, would train law enforcement on investigating hate crimes, create a hate crimes hotline, and establish programs to rehabilitate perpetrators.
Unlike the Blumenthal-Moran measure, however, Hirono’s bill includes specific references to COVID-19, a definition some GOP senators would like to broaden.
“It seems to say the hate crime has to be linked to COVID, which is rather odd,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Tuesday when asked about the measure.
Other Republicans, meanwhile, have expressed concerns about a provision in Hirono’s bill that would offer guidance to states on how to “mitigate racially discriminatory language.” Controversial amendments, if offered, could ultimately sink the bill.
Hirono said Republicans have offered 20 amendments so far, though all aren’t likely to receive a vote.
“Some of them have absolutely nothing to do with the bill,” she said on Wednesday.
The Hawaii senator indicated her willingness to make changes to her bill, but she defended the reason why it was introduced ― namely, the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans that accelerated under former President Donald Trump.
“It really came to the fore during COVID-19 and having a president calling it a ‘China virus,’ so I think it led to an increase in these kinds of attacks. That’s why there’s that framing to remind us, how did this happen?” Hirono said.