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Filibuster Test Over Hate Crime Bill   04/14 06:13


   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate is poised to start debate on legislation 
confronting the rise of potential hate crimes against Asian Americans, a 
growing problem during the coronavirus crisis that will also test whether the 
chamber can push past partisanship on an issue important to many constituents.

   Typically, the Democratic-sponsored COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act might quickly 
face a filibuster, opposed by Republicans who prefer a different approach. But 
under the Senate leaders' agreement struck at the start of the year, 
Republicans and Democrats pledged to try to at least try to debate bills to see 
if they could reach agreement through the legislative process.

   Ahead of Wednesday's initial votes, several leaders of the Asian American 
and Pacific Islander community in Congress gave personal and heart-wrenching 
stories of the racism they and their constituents have faced, incidents on the 
rise during the virus outbreak.

   "For more than a year, the Asian American community has been fighting two 
crises -- the COVID-19 pandemic and the anti-Asian hate," Rep. Grace Meng, 
D-N.Y., a co-author of the bill, said Tuesday at the Capitol.

   Meng described well-documented but "horrifying" images of people being 
shoved and beaten in public attacks, and of her own conversations with 
survivors, including the families of the victims of deadly shootings last month 
in Atlanta. Six of those killed were women of Asian descent.

   "Combating hate should not be a partisan issue. It's about the safety of all 
Americans," Meng said.

   The bill is the most substantive congressional response to what has been an 
alarming rise in racist sentiment against Asian Americans, fueled in part by 
derogatory language about the virus' origins in China. Donald Trump, while 
president, played into that narrative with derisive nicknames for the virus. 
The moment harks back to earlier eras of racism against Chinese Americans, 
Japanese Americans and others of Asian heritage in this country.

   Senate Republicans have panned the legislation for various shortcomings but 
have signaled they will not block it with a filibuster.

   Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said as the "proud husband of an 
Asian American woman, I think this discrimination against Asian Americans is a 
real problem."

   McConnell is married to Elaine Chao, the former transportation secretary, 
and he said Tuesday he was hoping to work out an agreement with Democrats to at 
least debate the bill and consider potential amendments.

   Final passage, however, remains uncertain.

   Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer launched the process to consider the 
bill this week, testing whether enough Republican senators will vote to 
proceed. Any one senator can halt the process, and it takes 60 votes in the 
Senate, which is evenly split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, to 
overcome a filibuster.

   Schumer said he was open to considering changes to the bill. He is in 
conversations with McConnell on a package of amendments that could be 
considered, according to aides.

   "We cannot and must not remain silent," Schumer said Tuesday. "There is no 
reason, no reason, this shouldn't be a bipartisan bill that passes the Senate."

   A robust floor debate is rare for the Senate, which has ground to a halt due 
to pervasive partisanship. The gridlock has intensified calls from Democrats to 
change the filibuster rules to push past the opposition. Shy of taking that 
step, Schumer and McConnell had reached a tentative accord earlier this year to 
try to push past stalemates and allow senators to discuss and amend bills.

   Several Republican senators indicated they would prefer to adjust the hate 
crimes legislation, but they are reluctant to exercise the filibuster on this 
bill. Opposing it could expose senators to claims they are being racially 

   Leaving a caucus luncheon Tuesday, several GOP senators said they would not 
block the bill, but they were still looking at the legislation and proposed 
amendments to figure out what they would support.

   "I don't believe we should be allowing these types of hate crimes out there, 
whether it's women or Asian Americans, so we're going to take a look at the 
text," said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa. She said she wasn't aware of any "major 
objections" from Republicans.

   Though timely, the legislation is also modest, what supporters see as a 
first step in a federal response to the rise of Asian American hate crimes. It 
would assign a point person within the Justice Department to expedite the 
review of COVID-19-related hate crimes and provide support for local law 
enforcement to respond to such incidents. The department would also work to 
limit discriminatory language used to describe the pandemic.

   One bipartisan amendment would beef up support to law enforcement, and 
others are expected.

   Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, the bill's co-author, told of her own 
experience. She said she is no longer comfortable taking a walk with her 
headphones listening to audio books because of the attacks on Asian American 
and Pacific Islanders in the U.S.

   She said she hopes Republicans join in supporting the bill.

   "An attack on one group in our country is truly an attack on all of us," she 

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