Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley was the only member of the Senate to vote against a bill combatting hate crimes against Asian Americans.
On Thursday, in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, the Senate voted 94 to 1 to approve the COVID Hate Crimes Act introduced by Senator Mazie Hirono and Representative Grace Meng.
Klobuchar and Smith, Minnesota’s two Democratic senators, were at Daunte Wright‘s funeral on Thursday. A spokesperson from Klobuchar’s office told Newsweek that the senator would have voted in favor of the bill had she not been away.
Blackburn and Lee had both previously taken the floor to propose amendments to the bill, which failed, suggesting the two Republican senators intentionally dodged the vote.
In a statement sent to Newsweek, Hawley said, “It’s too broad. 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.”
However, the legislation is relatively narrow, aiming to improve data collection on hate crimes against Asian Americans. The bill designates a Justice Department official to specifically review potential hate crime incidents, provides grants for local law enforcement to set up reporting hotlines, and offers training to police officers on hate crime response.
Earlier this week, Hawley had expressed his hesitance towards the bill which he called “hugely open-ended.”
“[It] mandates all this data collection in expansive categories that the federal government will collect and maintain. That concerns me,” the senator told CNN‘s Ted Barrett.
The bill was introduced in response to the rise in anti-Asian racism which surged amid the coronavirus pandemic after Asian Americans were scapegoated for the spread of COVID-19.
According to a tracker from Stop AAPI Hate, nearly 3,800 racist incidents from verbal abuse to physical assault have been reported since the global health crisis began. The violence against Asian Americans became a national talking point after racist attacks against elderly Asian Americans proliferated the news earlier this year. Last month, a gunman in the Atlanta area killed eight, including six Asian women.
“This historic, bipartisan vote on the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act is a powerful message of solidarity to our AAPI community. Now, I urge the House to swiftly pass this legislation so President Biden can sign it into law,” Hirono tweeted.
Meng also applauded the bipartisan vote, writing on Twitter: “I commend all the senators who voted to pass our bill which was a bold step in taking action to combat the ongoing bigotry & violence against Asian Americans. I especially thank @SenSchumer for shepherding the measure through the Senate & securing its bipartisan support.”
“#Asian Americans have been screaming out for help & today the Senate showed that they heard our pleas. Look forward to the House following suit,” the New York congresswoman added.
Ahead of the vote, Senator Tammy Duckworth, the only other Asian American senator, tweeted: “Today is a good day to pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.”
Updated 04/22/21, 5:25 p.m. ET: This story was updated with comments from Hawley.