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Republicans explain their vote against Asian American hate crimes legislation

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On Tuesday, the House of Representatives joined the Senate in easily passing a bill aimed at addressing the recent rise in attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. But unlike in the Senate, where Republican Josh Hawley of Missouri cast the only “no” vote, 62 Republicans in the House voted against the legislation, which President Biden signed into law on Thursday.

Introduced by Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act will expedite the review of hate crimes related to the pandemic and will expand efforts to make the reporting of hate crimes more accessible at the local and state levels, including providing online reporting resources that are available in multiple languages.

Vice President Kamala Harris listens as US President Joe Biden speaks before signing the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on May 20, 2021. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)
Vice President Kamala Harris listens as President Biden speaks before signing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act on Thursday. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

"The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act is a necessary step to confront the second pandemic of racism and discrimination. We cannot mend what we do not measure," Meng said on the House floor prior to Tuesday’s 364-62 vote.

For Hawley and his colleagues over in the House, the bill was anything but necessary.

"It’s too broad," he said in a statement explaining his vote. "As a former prosecutor, my view is it’s dangerous to simply give the federal government open-ended authority to define a whole new class of federal hate crime incidents."

An analysis conducted by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found that crimes targeting Asian Americans rose by 149 percent in 2020 over the previous year. But Hawley said in a tweet following his vote that the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act would curtail free speech.

“My big problem with Sen. Hirono’s bill ... is that it turns the federal government into the speech police — gives government sweeping authority to decide what counts as offensive speech and then monitor it. Raises big free speech questions,” Hawley wrote.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, echoed Hawley and suggested that the spike in violence against Asian Americans was tied to efforts backed by some Democrats and other progressives to decrease funding for the police.

“This violence, by and large, is happening in Democrat-controlled cities, many of which, interestingly enough, have defunded their police departments,” Jordan said on the House floor.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, speaks during a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hybrid hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC on May 19, 2021. (Susan Walsh/AFP via Getty Images)
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. (Susan Walsh/AFP via Getty Images)

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, summed up the view of many GOP House lawmakers when explaining his decision to join Hawley and vote no on the bill.

"We can't legislate away hate," Roy told his colleagues on the House floor ahead of the vote.

The Texas congressman was joined in voting no by conservative firebrands Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. Here are the others:

• Robert Aderholt (Alabama)

• Rick Allen (Georgia)

• Jodey Arrington (Texas)

• Brian Babin (Texas)

• Jim Banks (Indiana)

• Andy Biggs (Arizona)

• Dan Bishop (North Carolina)

• Ted Budd (North Carolina)

• Tim Burchett (Tennessee)

• Kat Cammack (Florida)

• Jerry Carl (Alabama)

• Madison Cawthorn (North Carolina)

• Michael Cloud (Texas)

• Andrew Clyde (Georgia)

• Tom Cole (Oklahoma)

• Warren Davidson (Ohio)

• Byron Donalds (Florida)

• Jeff Duncan (South Carolina)

• Virginia Foxx (North Carolina)

• Louie Gohmert (Texas)

• Bob Good (Virginia)

• Lance Gooden (Texas)

• Paul Gosar (Arizona)

• Mark Green (Tennessee)

• Michael Guest (Mississippi)

• Andy Harris (Maryland)

• Diana Harshbarger (Tennessee)

• Kevin Hern (Oklahoma)

• Yvette Herrell (New Mexico)

• Jody Hice (Georgia)

• Clay Higgins (Louisiana)

• Ronny Jackson (Texas)

• Mike Johnson (Louisiana)

• Trent Kelly (Mississippi)

• Doug LaMalfa (California)

• Barry Loudermilk (Georgia)

• Nancy Mace (South Carolina)

• Tracey Mann (Kansas)

• Thomas Massie (Kentucky)

• Tom McClintock (California)

• Mary Miller (Illinois)

• Alexander Mooney (West Virginia)

• Barry Moore (Alabama)

• Ralph Norman (South Carolina)

• Steven Palazzo (Mississippi)

• Gary Palmer (Alabama)

• Scott Perry (Pennsylvania)

• August Pfluger (Texas)

• Tom Rice (South Carolina)

• John Rose (Tennessee)

• Matthew Rosendale (Montana)

• David Rouzer (North Carolina)

• John Rutherford (Florida)

• W. Gregory Steube (Florida)

• Thomas Tiffany (Wisconsin)

• Randy Weber (Texas)

In all, nearly one-third of the House Republican caucus voted against the measure, which was supported by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Minority Whip Steve Scalise and newly appointed GOP leader Elise Stefanik.

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) (3rd L) speaks to members of the press after an election for House Republican Conference chair as (L-R) House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), and the newly elected House Republican Conference Vice Chair Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) listen at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center May 14, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., speaks to the press on May 14 after her election as House Republican Conference chair. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Calif., one of four Korean Americans serving in Congress, was among the 147 House Republicans who backed the legislation. The congresswoman said she has experienced racism firsthand and chose to be on the right side of the issue. "I have been called racist slurs and been treated differently because I am Asian American," she said on the House floor.

Steel co-sponsored a resolution in February with Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., condemning hate crimes committed against the AAPI community. While she admittedly disagrees with her Democratic colleagues on many issues, curbing violence against Asian Americans is one area where she said Republicans and Democrats can find common ground.

"That is what bipartisanship is — disagreeing with someone but finding issues where there is opportunity to work together for the good of the country," Steel said. "I will continue to work on behalf of our AAPI community in Congress and condemn hate in all forms, because this is not a partisan issue."

Steel's colleague Rep. Young Kim, R-Calif., also backed the legislation. Kim, who publicly condemned former President Donald Trump's anti-Asian rhetoric, called the resolution "a step in the right direction," but said there's still more work to do.

Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition aimed at combating anti-Asian enmity, was encouraged by the passage of the measure, but said in a statement that it doesn’t go far enough.

“The passage of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act demonstrates that the federal government recognizes the devastating impact of the pandemic-related racism and discrimination that the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is facing," the nonprofit group said in a statement to Yahoo News. "We are in support of the included investments in community-centered solutions and provisions to mitigate anti-Asian rhetoric, which we know sparked COVID-related hate incidents. However, because the Act centers criminal law enforcement agencies in its solutions, it will not address the overwhelming majority of incidents reported to our site which [are] not hate crimes, but serious hate incidents."

Law enforcement personnel are seen outside a massage parlor where a person was shot and killed on March 16, 2021, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Elijah Nouvelage/AFP via Getty Images)
Law enforcement personnel outside a massage parlor on March 16 in Atlanta, the site of a string of mass shootings of Asian Americans. (Elijah Nouvelage/AFP via Getty Images)

Stop AAPI Hate has been tracking reports of racist attacks targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, recording a steep rise of nearly 3,000 incidents in March. Verbal harassment and shunning made up the two largest portions of the incidents reported, according to the organization's data. The information also showed that the events largely took place on public streets and in parks (37.8 percent), and the majority of the incidents were reported by women (64.8 percent).

"It is heartbreaking to read the news stories of these crimes, and my heart goes out to all those who have been victims of this violence," Steel told colleagues on the floor.

On March 16, a series of mass shootings occurred at three Asian spas in the metropolitan area of Atlanta. Eight people were killed, six of whom were Asian women, and one other person was wounded. A suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, was taken into custody and was later indicted on murder charges.

On March 29, a security video caught the brutal beating of a 65-year-old Filipino woman in broad daylight as she walked down a street near Times Square in New York City. Three men nearby were seen in the video watching and doing nothing as the violent scene unfolded.

A day after the Times Square attack, Biden announced the first steps to protect Asian Americans from discrimination and violent attacks, including the establishment of a Justice Department initiative to address the rising number of hate crimes since the coronavirus pandemic began last year.

On April 8, a video surfaced online showing a man yelling racist insults at a woman at a park in Orange, Calif. The woman was Sakura Kokumai, a 28-year-old Asian American martial artist with Team USA. She is a seven-time national champion and was training for the Tokyo Olympics. Kokumai posted a video of the incident on Instagram and wrote, "Yes what happened was horrible. But I don't know which was worse, a stranger yelling and threatening to hurt me for no reason or people around me who witnessed everything and not doing a thing."

People participate in a protest to demand an end to anti-Asian violence on April 04, 2021 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
A protest in New York on April 4 demanding an end to anti-Asian violence. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Two weeks after the Senate approved the hate crime bill by a 94-1 vote, an Asian woman in New York City was attacked with a hammer by a stranger who demanded that she remove her mask. The next day, on May 4, two Asian women — ages 63 and 83 — were stabbed without warning in downtown San Francisco. The suspect was arrested after a two-hour search.

Two days before the stabbings in San Francisco, an ugly incident took place at an Amateur Athletic Union basketball tournament in Oakland. A player from a predominantly Asian team was punched in the face, and his team was allegedly subjected to racial slurs. "Not one single parent stood up to go protect my son. I ran across the gym to get him," the mother of the victim told a local TV station.

The player who threw the punch was banned from the team but denied using racial slurs.

"Those of Asian descent have been blamed and scapegoated for the outbreak of COVID-19," Meng said in a news conference on Tuesday. "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."

According to a Pew Research Center study conducted in April, one-third of Asian adults living in the U.S. said they have feared someone might threaten or physically attack them. The research also showed that the vast majority of Asian adults (81 percent) said violence against them was increasing. Some 20 percent of the respondents directly blamed Trump's rhetoric as one of the reasons for the rise in violence against Asians.

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