GOP edges back from filibuster cliff on hate crimes bill
Bipartisan efforts are underway to change the Senate Democrats Against Hate Crime Act as the GOP steps back from its first filibuster opportunity of Joe Biden's presidency.
The bill, a humble bill by Senator Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, aimed at combating a surge in hate incidents against Asian Americans during the pandemic, has faced headwinds in the Senate as Republicans weigh up whether to use a formal filibuster should. Ahead of a Wednesday vote to open a debate, some in the GOP argued that the bill was unnecessary and a possible overrun by the government, but after their weekly lunch meeting, Republicans opened the door to start a debate and change the legislation.
"As the proud husband of an Asian American woman, I think this discrimination against Asian Americans is a real problem," said Mitch McConnell, chairman of the Senate Minority, on Tuesday, making some changes the normal way and moving on to the final passage. "
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she would join the Democrats to move on with the bill and hoped other Republicans would join her.
"I think it's an important issue that we should consider," she said.
"There will be bipartisan support to at least get the bill and start the debate and get the amendments to the ground," said Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Who added that he had not yet decided how he would vote on the legislation.
Previous Republican objections to the legislation had raised concerns about a formal filibuster, which would have sparked an already simmering debate within Biden's party over whether to attempt to weaken or kill the 60-vote threshold required for most laws to be passed. If the GOP agrees to begin a debate on the hate crime law as expected, both parties will discuss an amendment that provides for separate, bipartisan legislation on the issue, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday.
"We are open to strengthening the bill," he said, later adding that he would introduce the first amendment to the Hirono bill and seek to add bipartisan legislation.
Current efforts could spark a spark of bipartisan collaboration in the 50:50 Chamber, with Schumer's encouragement after a long period of frustration with the corridor over the lack of opportunities for open debate. Republicans are increasingly inclined to get on the bill, according to a GOP source.
Republicans could "seek an opportunity to get into a discussion about how to make it better and better," said Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) Of the bill.
The potential change would improve reporting of hate crimes at the state and local levels and is led by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) And Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). A version of this proposal is also supported by both parties in the House.
Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), a key moderator, said Tuesday that she would support the bill if the bipartisan amendment were added and the bill adapted using language that does not explicitly associate hate crimes with Covid.
Schumer told reporters Tuesday that Democrats would be open to "German" amendments, including those addressing Collins's concerns.
House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi admitted that given the changes made in both houses of Congress, any hate crime legislation would likely have to go to conference. The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee will mark its companion on Hironos legislation next week and approve the measure soon after, Pelosi said.
Asian-American lawmakers see the legislation as a modest but important step in condemning the recent surge in hate incidents against their community.
"I really believe that the next few weeks will determine the next few decades in which Asian Americans will be treated, understood and accepted in this country," said MP Andy Kim (DN.J.) at a news conference on Tuesday morning's legislation.
Hirono told reporters she hoped to see members on both sides of the aisle "speak out and condemn these types of targeted crimes." Her legislation did not force states to improve their coverage of hate crimes and was "voluntary," she said, but "one would hope there will be general condemnation" given the fear and violence Asian Americans experience.
Hirono added that she preferred to walk around listening to audiobooks, but given the current surge in bias crime, "as an AAPI person, I think it gives me a break ... I would never do that now."
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.
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