Sen. Hirono Says AAPI Community Felt “Invisible And Under Assault,” Needed Lawmakers To Stand Up

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) championed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act that recently passed in the Senate in the wake of increased anti-Asian hate crimes in the U.S.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) speaks at a news conference following a Senate Democratic policy luncheon on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in Washington, D.C. | Getty Images
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) speaks at a news conference following a Senate Democratic policy luncheon on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in Washington, D.C. | Getty Images

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) managed to secure overwhelming bipartisan support for a hate crimes bill she introduced in 2020, despite the bill initially not having any Republican backing. The Senate passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act 94-1 in April, in the wake of an uptick in anti-Asian American hate crimes in the U.S — and in a deeply polarized upper Congressional chamber.

Hirono told NowThis in an interview that she isn’t interested in focusing on the lone Republican senator, Josh Hawley (MO), who voted against the bill, but said she hasn’t spoken to him since the vote.

“I don’t think we should spend very much time on the outlier, even among the Republicans,” Hirono told NowThis. “This bill started off with no Republican support… and I worked very closely with [Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME)] to create more bipartisan support for this bill.”

Hirono, who was the Senate’s first elected Asian American, introduced the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act with Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) in May 2020, nearly two months into the pandemic. The bill is designed to help make public reporting around hate crimes easier as well as advance them at a faster pace for review to the Justice Department.

During a procedural vote in April, six Republicans voted against the bill, but a second vote on April 22 resulted in the bill passing in the Senate. Hawley was the only senator to vote against it both times.

Data collected by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino earlier this year found a 149% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in 16 of the largest U.S. cities in 2020. The study also found that the first spike in crimes occured in March and April — when the COVID-19 virus was first rapidly spreading. In March, a gunman attacked three spas in the Atlanta area, killing eight people including six women of Asian descent.

“This was a tremendously important sign to the AAPI community that you have the United States Senate finally standing up for and with the AAPI community, which felt really invisible and under assault,” Hirono said.

The Hawaiian senator who is of Japanese descent — along with many other critics — have pointed to former President Donald Trump’s remarks during the COVID-19 crisis as a source of exacerbated Asian American hate in the U.S.

“There is a causal relationship between a president who called it the ‘China Virus,’ his administration [was] referring to it as the ‘Kung Flu,’’ she continued. “And so this resulted in people with animus against AAPI's to randomly attack AAPIs. And we've seen all the images. It's just horrific.”

President Joe Biden announced the appointment of Erika Moritsugu as Deputy Assistant to the President and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Senior Liaison in April. The appointment came after Sens. Hirono and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) increased pressure on the Biden administration to add a senior-level AAPI adviser, saying they would vote “no” on some of Biden’s Cabinet nominees.

“There's a lot more to do because we don't have AAPIs really at the cabinet level,” Hirono said.

Since 2000, every administration besides Biden’s has included at least one Asian American cabinet member.

She continued: “We all have to raise our voices against this kind of discriminatory hate crimes against AAPI's.”

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