House passes bill to counter anti-Asian hate crimes, sending it to Biden’s desk for his signature

grace meng nancy pelosi anti-Asian hate crimes bill
US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) looks on as Representative Grace Meng (D-NY) speaks during a news conference with House Democrats and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus on the “Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act” on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on May 18, 2021.

  • The House passed legislation on Tuesday to address the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans.
  • The bill passed the chamber in a 364-62 vote.
  • The Senate approved the bill last month. It now heads to Biden’s desk for his signature.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The House on Tuesday passed a bill that addresses the rise in violence and discrimination against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lower chamber approved the legislation, called the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, in a 364-62 vote.

The bill directs the Department of Justice to expedite the review of coronavirus-related hate crimes, provide guidance to state and local governments to improve public reporting on hate crimes, and raise awareness about hate crimes during the public health crisis.

Democratic Rep. Grace Meng of New York, who championed the bill, said it makes clear that hate against Asian Americans is “unacceptable” and “will not be tolerated.” The legislation also demonstrates that “Congress has the Asian American community’s back,” she added.

“An attack on the Asian American community is an attack on all of us,” Meng said during a press conference ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

The bill’s passage comes after the Senate overwhelmingly approved it 94-1 last month in a rare bipartisan effort. Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri was the lone “no” vote, arguing it was “too broad.”

The bill now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature. Biden has previously expressed support for the legislation and condemned hate crimes against AAPI communities in an executive order during his first week in office.

The federal government has been under pressure to respond to the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic. The nonprofit group, Stop AAPI Hate, has reported 6,603 incidents of physical assault, shunning, verbal and online harassment, and civil-rights violations against AAPI communities in the US from March 2020 to March 2021.

Meng and fellow Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii introduced the legislation in March in the wake of a mass shooting at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area that killed eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent. The deadly attack sparked national outrage over the uptick in anti-Asian violence coinciding with the spread of COVID-19 across the country and former President Donald Trump elevating terms such as “Chinese virus” and “kung flu.”

During a hearing on the bill in March, Meng accused Trump and other Republican officials of “putting a bull’s-eye on the back” of Asian Americans by regularly using inflammatory rhetoric about the pandemic.

“Those of Asian descent have been blamed and scapegoated for the outbreak of COVID-19 and as a result Asian Americans have been beaten, slashed, spat on, and even set on fire and killed,” Meng said on Tuesday. “We are here today to say that Congress is taking action.”

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Less than 1% of US elected leaders are Asian American, despite making up more than 6% of the US population

President Joe Biden speaks with Vice President Kamala Harris, Sen. Mazie Hirono, Mark Takano, Rep. Judy Chu, and Rep. Grace Meng during a meeting with members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Executive Committee at the White House in Washington.
In this April 15, 2021, file photo, President Joe Biden, accompanied by from left, Vice President Kamala Harris, Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Mark Takano, D-Calif., Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., and Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., speaks during a meeting with members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Executive Committee at the White House in Washington.

  • Less than 1% of elected leadership in the US are members of the AAPI community.
  • But AAPI individuals make up more than 6% of the population.
  • The statistic was included in a report by the Reflective Democracy Campaign, which investigates diversity in elected leadership.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Asian American lawmakers make up less than 1% of elected leaders in the US, despite the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders accounting for more than 6% of the nation’s population as of mid-2020.

The statistic was included in a report by the Reflective Democracy Campaign, which investigates diversity and demographic representation in elected leadership. The report was included in an article by Politico on Tuesday.

There are two US senators who are part of the AAPI community – Sens. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. At least 16 US representatives are AAPI individuals.

On a state level, there are more than 150 state legislators in 31 states across the US. One-third of whom are representing majority-white districts, but only 17% representing majority AAPI districts, according to the report.

“The exclusion of Asian Americans from political power mirrors the history of AAPI exclusion and erasure from American society,” Brenda Choresi Carter, the director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign, said in the report. “But AAPI communities are winning visibility and power, and AAPI leaders are winning elections and reshaping politics, from city halls to Congress and the Vice President’s office.”

Strides in AAPI representation in the political sphere were made when Vice President Kamala Harris made history as the nation’s first female vice president, as well as the first vice president who is Black and of Asian descent.

When taking all levels of government into account, the only state whose AAPI elected officials proportionately represent its AAPI population is Hawaii. Madalene Xuan-Trang Mielke said in the report that states with significant AAPI populations – save for Hawaii – AAPI people are underrepresented in elected office.

“As a result, governments are unable to adequately serve vulnerable AAPI communities with cultural competency and with language access,” Mielke continued.

When measuring state legislatures alone, AAPI elected officials begin to mirror that of their AAPI constituents, according to the report. The percentage of state legislators in Hawaii, California, Maryland, and Washington who are AAPI are “relatively close or equal” to their AAPI population, the report read.

However, New Jersey has the fourth largest AAPI population in the US but has two AAPI state legislators, and Nevada has the fifth largest AAPI population and has only one AAPI state lawmaker, according to the report.

“Voters, regardless of party identification, really want to see reflective leadership,” Carter told Politico. “Political power has been concentrated in the hands of white men in the United States since the very beginning. And I think we are seeing the limitations of that.”

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After 2 senators threatened to withhold votes in support of nominees, the Biden administration pledges increased Asian Americans representation

en. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., speaks during a Senate Democrats' news conference
Tammy Duckworth told reporters she would be a “no vote on the floor, on all non-diversity nominees” unless Biden pledged increased representation of the AAPI community.

  • Sens. Mazie Hirono and Tammy Duckworth successfully lobbied the White House for increased AAPI representation.
  • The pair threatened to withhold votes in support of Cabinet nominees unless Biden made changes.
  • The White House said it would add a senior-level AAPI liaison.
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The Biden administration says it will appoint an Asian American Pacific Islander liaison after Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Mazie Hirono decried the lack of AAPI representation at the highest levels of government and threatened to block future administration nominees unless Biden pledged more representation.

Duckworth, of Illinois, and Hirono, of Hawaii, are the only two AAPI members of the Senate and had been raising the issue of representation for months but had been met with little support, according to The New York Times,

During a tense call on Monday night with the White House, Duckworth was told by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O’Malley Dillon that Vice President Kamala Harris was proof enough of high-level AAPI representation, according to CNN.

Duckworth called Dillon’s comments “insulting.”

“To be told that you have Kamala Harris, we are very proud of her, you don’t need anybody else, is insulting,” Duckworth told reporters following the meeting. “That’s not something you would say to the Black caucus – that you have Kamala – we’re not going to be putting any African Americans in the Cabinet – why would you say that to AAPIs?”

Duckworth added that until the White House “can call me and tell me what the proposal is,” she would be a “no vote on the floor, on all non-diversity nominees.”

Hirono echoed Duckworth’s sentiments.

“Tammy’s position is that until she gets a commitment from the White House that there will be more diversity representation in the Cabinet and senior White House advisory positions, she will not vote to confirm anyone who does not represent diversity,” Hirono told MSNBC. “This is not about pitting one diversity group against another. I think this is a well-articulated, focused position. I am prepared to join her in that.”

The Asian Pacific American Caucus had previously applauded the confirmation of Dr. Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General and Katherine Tai as US Trade Representative, but Hirono and Duckworth questioned why there are no AAPI members in top leadership roles in Biden’s Cabinet.

With the Senate currently split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, Duckworth and Hirono’s support for Biden nominations is crucial.

On Tuesday, the White House spoke privately with Hirono and Duckworth. Following the conversation, both women reversed course.

Ben Garmisa, a spokesperson for Duckworth, said the senator appreciated “assurances” that the Biden administration would “do more to elevate AAPI voices and perspectives at the highest levels of government” and that Duckworth “will not stand in the way of President Biden’s qualified nominees – which will include more AAPI leaders.”

Hirono said on Twitter that after a “productive” and “private” conversation with the White House, she would “continue voting to confirm the historic and highly qualified nominees President Biden has appointed to serve in his administration.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement to the Times on Tuesday night that “the White House will add a senior-level Asian American Pacific Islander liaison, who will ensure the community’s voice is further represented and heard.”

“The president has made it clear that his administration will reflect the diversity of the country. That has always been, and remains, our goal,” she continued.

The White House’s announcement comes amid a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes in the US believed to be related to unfounded COVID-19 conspiracies. Last year, Hirono, along with several other AAPI members of Congress, introduced the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act which would allocate Department of Justice resources toward reviewing hate crimes.

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