Republicans and the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act
A third of the party's Members of Congress voted against a popular bill.
Yesterday, the House passed said legislation 364-62, following the Senate, which did so 94-1 last month. President Biden signed it immediately. The controversy, though, is that, while the passage was overwhelming and bipartisan, all of the No votes came from Republicans.
Indeed, CNN yesterday afternoon published a piece titled “Here are the 63 Republicans who voted against the anti-Asian hate crimes bill” that literally just listed their names. A piece at YahooNews is titled “Republicans explain their vote against Asian American hate crimes legislation” but, alas, it’s not useful in accomplishing the titular objective, seemingly just stringing together some tweets the reporter hastily assembled.
For Hawley and his colleagues over in the House, the bill was anything but necessary.
“It’s too broad,” he said in a statement explaining his vote. “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.”
“My big problem with Sen. Hirono’s bill … is that it turns the federal government into the speech police — gives government sweeping authority to decide what counts as offensive speech and then monitor it. Raises big free speech questions,” Hawley wrote.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, echoed Hawley and suggested that the spike in violence against Asian Americans was tied to efforts backed by some Democrats and other progressives to decrease funding for the police.
“This violence, by and large, is happening in Democrat-controlled cities, many of which, interestingly enough, have defunded their police departments,” Jordan said on the House floor.
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, summed up the view of many GOP House lawmakers when explaining his decision to join Hawley and vote no on the bill.
“We can’t legislate away hate,” Roy told his colleagues on the House floor ahead of the vote.
The Texas congressman was joined in voting no by conservative firebrands Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
So, Jordan and Roy are morons and the rest are rabid ideologues. But I’m actually sympathetic to Hawley’s concerns about overreach. Mostly, though, it just strikes me as unnecessary. A CNN report describes it thusly:
The bill would create a new position at the Justice Department to expedite review of potential Covid-19-related hate crimes and incidents reported at the federal, state or local level.
It would also direct the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services to work with community-based organizations to issue guidance raising awareness of hate crimes during the pandemic, and would require the US Attorney General to issue guidance to work with state and local law enforcement agencies to establish online reporting of them.
“The Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act will strengthen our defenses to prevent and combat anti-AAPI violence and will build on steps already taken by President Biden. Together these actions will make a significant difference in how we address hate crimes in America, not only during this pandemic, but for years to come,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Tuesday.
While it’s certainly debatable whether there is a radical increase in anti-Asian violence in the wake of former President Trump and other’s attempts to blame the pandemic on China, it’s certainly reasonable for political leaders to take a stance against it. But do we literally need to make a federal case out of it? What is the evidence that state and local authorities can’t or won’t handle the situation?
I’m generally skeptical of the whole “hate crimes” category because it has tremendous potential for abuse. Still, we have a history in this country of crimes against Blacks being ignored by local authorities, requiring federal intervention on a Civil Rights Act basis. Ditto anti-LGBTQ violence. So far as I’m aware, though, this hasn’t been an issue with Asians and Pacific Islanders in a long, long time.
So, why do we need to expedite review of these cases at the federal level? Did we really need new legislation to empower community groups to “raise awareness” of, well, anything? Could the FBI, which does most of our collecting of crime statistics, not issue reporting guidance before now?
Again, two-thirds of Republicans—including all but one Senate Republican—voted for the bill. Even in the House, the entire GOP leadership voted in favor. I wish those who voted against did a better job of articulating their reasons.