GOP edges back from filibuster cliff on hate crimes bill

GOP edges back from filibuster cliff on hate crimes bill

A bipartisan effort is underway to amend Democrats’ anti-hate crime legislation in the Senate as the GOP edges back from its first filibuster opportunity of Joe Biden’s presidency.

The bill, a modest piece of legislation from Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) aimed at addressing a spike in hate incidents against Asian Americans during the pandemic, has faced headwinds in the Senate as Republicans weigh whether to mount a formal filibuster. Ahead of a vote Wednesday on whether to open debate, some in the GOP argued that the bill is unnecessary and a potential government overreach, but following their weekly lunch meeting Republicans opened the door to beginning debate and amending the legislation.

“As a proud husband of an Asian American woman, I think this discrimination against Asian Americans is a real problem,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday. “I’m hoping we will work out an agreement to get on the bill in a normal way, have some amendments and move to final passage.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she would join Democrats in voting to proceed with the bill and hoped other Republicans would join her.

“I think it’s an important issue and one that’s worthy of our consideration,” she said.

“There’s gonna be some bipartisan support to at least get on the bill and start the debate and have the amendments on the floor,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who added that he’s not yet decided how he would vote on the legislation.

Earlier Republican objections to the legislation had raised concerns about a formal filibuster, which would have further stoked an already simmering debate within Biden’s party over whether to try to weaken or kill the l60-vote threshold required to pass most bills. If the GOP agrees to start debate on the hate crimes bill, as is now expected, both parties are discussing an amendment that would attach separate, bipartisan legislation on the issue, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday.

“We are open to strengthening the bill,” he said, adding later he would introduce the first amendment to Hirono’s bill and attempt to add the bipartisan legislation.

The current effort could lead to a spark of bipartisan collaboration in the 50-50 chamber, with Schumer’s encouragement, after a long period of cross-aisle frustration over the lack of opportunities for open floor debate. Republicans are increasingly inclined to get on the bill, according to one GOP source.

Republicans may seek “an opportunity to engage in a discussion about how to make it better, how to improve it,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said of the bill.

The potential amendment would improve hate crimes reporting at the state and local level and is spearheaded by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). A version of that proposal also has bipartisan backing in the House.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a pivotal moderate, said Tuesday that she would support the bill if the bipartisan amendment were attached and the bill was adjusted with language not explicitly linking hate crimes to Covid.

Schumer told reporters Tuesday that Democrats would be open to “germane” amendments, including those addressing Collins’ concerns.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged that any hate crimes legislation would likely have to go to conference given the changes made in both chambers of Congress. The House Judiciary Committee is set to mark up its companion to Hirono’s legislation next week and then will pass the measure soon after, Pelosi said.

Asian American lawmakers see the legislation as a modest but important step in condemning the recent spike in hate incidents against their community.

“I really do believe that next few weeks will determine the next few decades of how Asian Americans are treated and understood and accepted in this country,” said Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.), at a Tuesday morning press conference on the legislation.

Hirono told reporters she hoped to see members on both sides of the aisle “speaking out, condemning these kinds of targeted crimes.” Her legislation did not compel states to improve their hate crime reporting and was “voluntary,” she said, but “one would hope that there will be universal condemnation” given the fear and violence experienced by Asian Americans.

Hirono added that she has preferred to walk around while listening to audio books, but given the current uptick in bias crime, “as an AAPI person, I guess it does give me pause … I would never do that now.”

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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