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Anti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle

The Hill logo The Hill 4/14/2021 Jordain Carney
a close up of Mazie Hirono wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Anti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle © Bonnie Cash Anti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle

An anti-Asian hate crimes bill overcame an initial Senate hurdle on Wednesday as leadership tries to lock down a deal that could let the chamber pass the legislation as soon as this week.

Senators voted 92-6 to move toward starting debate on the legislation from Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). GOP Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Roger Marshall (Kansas), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Tommy Tuberville (Ala.) voted against advancing the bill.

"I'm so glad that our Republican colleagues have voted with us to proceed with this legislation. This was never intended as gotcha legislation. It was always intended as bipartisan legislation," Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said after the vote.

The bill requires the Justice Department to designate an official to review coronavirus-related hate crimes, beefs up state and local resources, and calls on the administration to offer guidance on "best practices to mitigate racially discriminatory language" describing the pandemic.

Without a deal, debate over the bill could easily stretch into next week.

Hirono said she is working with GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa) on changes that they want. And leadership is negotiating a deal on amendment votes that could speed things up and help avoid a potential filibuster of the bill on the back end when Democrats try to end debate.

The first amendment vote is expected to be on bipartisan legislation from Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) that aims to strengthen the reporting of hate crimes, offer support for law enforcement for hate crimes training and establish a hate crimes hotline.

But Republicans have filed roughly two dozen other amendments to the bill, and it's unclear how many will get votes. Hirono said that some of the GOP amendments "have absolutely nothing to do with the bill."

Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are negotiating a potential amendments deal. Schumer said that they are making "good progress" on reaching a deal on "sensible, germane and constructive amendments."

"We're working with the Republican leader to determine if and how many other amendments to the bill there will be so that we can consider them and vote on final passage without any gotcha or not-germane amendments," he said.

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