In Rare Bipartisanship Moment, Senate Approves Asian American Hate Crimes Bill The Senate passed new legislation to address a spike in hate crimes and violence targeted at the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. Josh Hawley was the only senator to vote against it.

In Rare Moment Of Bipartisan Unity, Senate Approves Asian American Hate Crimes Bill

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Almost every U.S. senator went on record yesterday against hate crimes. A bill before the Senate denounced anti-Asian and anti-Pacific Islander sentiment. It encouraged local law enforcement to track hate crimes against them. And nearly all senators from both parties voted yes. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said it offers reassurance to a large group of Americans.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: We will not tolerate bigotry against you. And to those perpetrating anti-Asian bigotry, we will pursue you to the fullest extent of the law.

INSKEEP: This bill was approved 94-1. Republican senator and presumed presidential aspirant Josh Hawley of Missouri was the only senator to vote no. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales joins us now. Claudia, good morning.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, so it makes this statement against hate crimes and hateful sentiment. But beyond that statement, what would the legislation do?

GRISALES: It incentivizes law enforcement agencies to better track and deter instances of hate crimes through grant programs and other efforts, such as reporting hotlines. It also calls on the Justice Department to initiate a review of these hate crimes for law enforcement departments across the country. It directs new guidance for online reporting requirements and an expansion of public awareness campaigns. And it includes a bipartisan provision that was authored by Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal and Kansas GOP Senator Jerry Moran to allow alternative sentencing, where a defendant could do community service in the neighborhood that was harmed by their actions.

INSKEEP: How did this issue bring together senators to the point where 94 out of 95 who voted voted yes?

GRISALES: We heard impassioned arguments from both sides of the aisle about the spike in discrimination and violent attacks in the wake of the pandemic. The bill's sponsor, Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono, said unprovoked random attacks are happening, quote, "on our streets, restaurants, basically wherever we are." Another Democrat from Illinois, Tammy Duckworth, a combat Army veteran, said her mom, who is of Asian origin, just experienced this kind of discrimination in a grocery store recently. And she said she herself is not immune either.

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TAMMY DUCKWORTH: And I've had that happen to me while wearing the uniform of this nation with her flag on my shoulder and asked, where are you from, really? Yeah, yeah, your dad has been here since before the revolution. But where are you from? This tells the AAPI community we see you, and we will stand with you and we will protect you.

GRISALES: And we heard arguments from Republicans as well, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is married to former Cabinet Secretary Elaine Chao. And he called this a real problem.

INSKEEP: OK, symbolically significant measure. And it does something substantive in encouraging local law enforcement to track these kinds of crimes. But still, I have to note, not the very biggest or most complicated legislation that ever comes before the Senate. Is there a chance that this kind of bipartisanship could extend to other issues?

GRISALES: Some members really hope so. Schumer and other lawmakers are pointing to some upcoming legislation that already has bipartisan support, such as a new effort to boost U.S. competitiveness with China. But they're facing some really tall orders here on police reform, gun legislation, immigration and infrastructure. The Senate's No. 2 Republican, John Thune, said in some ways the Senate got off on the wrong foot with a massive COVID relief bill that was approved without GOP support. And he's still holding out hope they can get back on track.

INSKEEP: Claudia, thanks so much.

GRISALES: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: That's NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales.

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