The House of Representatives is poised to give final passage on Tuesday to the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, in response to the rise in violence against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Senate, in an increasingly rare bipartisan effort, voted 94-1 last month to pass the bicameral resolution “condemning the horrific shootings in Atlanta, Georgia on March 16th and reaffirming the House’s commitment to combating hate, bigotry, and violence against the AAPI community.” Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, who challenged the results of the 2020 election after the Capitol attack, was the lone vote against it.
Ahead of Tuesday’s House vote, which comes during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chair Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., and Democrats involved in the legislation held a press conference on Capitol Hill.
Democrats said they expect the legislation to pass later on with bipartisan support.
“What I hope is that the unity that’s springing from this legislation will further engender more unity on other challenges that we face,” Pelosi said.
Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., took to the podium to assure the Asian American community that Congress responding to the hate crimes Democrats argue are linked to former President Donald Trump’s branding of COVID-19 as the “China virus,” among other names.
“Those of Asian descent have been blamed and scapegoated for the outbreak of COVID-19,” Meng told reporters. “And as a result, Asian Americans have been beaten, slashed, spat on, and even set on fire and killed. The Asian American community is exhausted from being forced to endure this rise in bigotry and racist attacks. Asian Americans are tired of living in fear.”
She went on to say the “galvanizing” moment of the bill’s passage later in the day will be one “where we say loud and clear that we are as American as anyone else in this country, and that we will be seen as invisible no more.”
The bill, introduced by Meng and Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, would take relatively modest steps to equip law enforcement and communities to better deal with the rise in attacks against Asian American and Pacific Islanders.
It would assign a point person at the Department of Justice to expedite the review of COVID-19-related hate crimes, provide support for law enforcement agencies to respond to hate crimes and facilitate coordination between local and state partners to curb discriminatory language used to describe the COVID-19 pandemic.
The effort to pass the legislation began after the shooting of eight people, including six Asian women, at several spas in the Atlanta area in March. That shooting followed a general rise in anti-Asian sentiments across the country.
President Joe Biden has urged Congress to swiftly pass the bill and is expected to sign it into law when it lands on his desk.
ABC News’ Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.
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