The Senate will take up a bill addressing hate crimes against Asian Americans this week amid a spike in anti-Asian discrimination and violence during the coronavirus pandemic. But the bill may be subject to the first filibuster of the new Congress if an insufficient number of Republicans agree to support it.
The bill introduced by Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono, which currently lacks any Republican co-sponsors, would expedite the federal government's response to hate crimes against Asian Americans and strengthen guidance for state and local government hate crime reporting. Democrats have a narrow 50-seat majority in the Senate, and 60 votes are required to end debate on legislation and bring it to the Senate floor for a full vote.
Without support from 10 Republican senators, the bill will stall — and provide opponents of the filibuster with further evidence that the rule is preventing Democrats from implementing their priorities. Many Democrats have pressed for eliminating the filibuster, which would allow legislation such as this bill to advance with a simple majority.
Hirono told reporters on Monday that she did not believe a sufficient number of Republicans would support the bill. "Anything to do with the Democrats are putting forward as important, the Republican tend to not to support. There you have it," she said.
Republican Senator John Cornyn told reporters Monday that he still needed to review the bill, but criticized Democrats for putting it to the Senate floor immediately instead of having it go through committee hearings first.
"My understanding is it doesn't really do much," Cornyn said, calling it a "messaging vote."
GOP Senator Susan Collins said it was "odd" that the legislation was specifically tied to hate crimes during the pandemic.
"Certainly I condemn hate crimes against the Asian Americans or any other ethnic group. The bill has some drafting problems that I hope can be corrected. For example, it seems to say that the hate crime has to be linked to COVID, which is rather odd," Collins told reporters on Monday.
But according to a Senate Democratic aide, there is a bipartisan effort to strengthen the Hirono bill by adding the bipartisan bill by Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal and Republican Senator Jerry Moran to provide grants to state and local governments to help improve hate crime reporting — but only if Senate Republicans choose not to block the bill on Wednesday.
President Biden released a statement last month urging Congress to pass Hirono's bill, saying that "every person in our nation deserves to live their lives with safety, dignity, and respect."
The legislation comes after mass shootings in the Atlanta area last month which killed eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent. There has also been a significant uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes over the past year.
Jack Turman contributed to this report.