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Political Notebook

Bill to combat hate crimes against Asian Americans passes Senate with bipartisan support

Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii
Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of HawaiiKatherine Frey/The Washington Post/File

WASHINGTON — The Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation Thursday designed to more forcefully investigate hate crimes, particularly those against Asian Americans following the March 16 shootings at three Atlanta spas and a wave of violence following the spread of the coronavirus from China last year.

“The vote today on the anti-Asian hate crimes bill is proof that when the Senate is given an opportunity to work, the Senate can work to solve important issues,” Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, said Thursday morning ahead of the vote.

The vote was 94 to 1. Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, was the lone no vote.

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Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, introduced the bill last month, officially titled the COVID19 Hate Crimes Act, based on a year’s worth of rising attacks following the pandemic coming out of Wuhan, China. Five days after Hirono introduced the legislation, eight people were killed, including six women of Asian descent, in mass shootings at three Atlanta spas. The crime heightened the pressure on Congress to respond to the rise in attacks against the Asian American community.

With Representative Grace Meng, Democrat of New York, as the lead House sponsor, the legislation would assign an official in the Justice Department to review and expedite all reports of hate crimes related to the coronavirus, expand support for local and state law enforcement agencies responding to these hate crimes, and issue guidance on mitigating the use of racially discriminatory language to describe the pandemic.

Republicans at first hesitated to adopt a position on the legislation, which carefully avoids any mention of former president Donald Trump’s comments about the “kung flu” and “the China virus” as possible inspiration for attacks on Asian Americans — but the inference is easily understood.

In a rare bipartisan compromise, negotiators agreed to add a broader bill, the “No Hate Act” sponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, and Jerry Moran, Republican of Kansas, to provide federal funding to conduct broader studies about the number of hate crimes every year.

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Washington Post

House passes D.C. statehood legislation

For the second time in history, the House passed legislation Thursday to make the District of Columbia the nation’s 51st state, bolstering momentum for a once-illusory goal that has become a pivotal tenet of the Democratic Party’s voting rights platform.

Democrats unanimously approved Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s Washington, D.C. Admission Act, describing it as a bid to restore equal citizenship to the residents of the nation’s capital and rectify a historic injustice.

Norton, a Democrat from the District, told colleagues before the 216-to-208 party-line vote that they had a “moral obligation” to pass the bill. “This Congress, with Democrats controlling the House, the Senate, and the White House, D.C. statehood is within reach for the first time in history,” she said.

The bill, symbolically titled H.R. 51, now heads to the Senate, where proponents hope to break new ground — including a first-ever hearing in that chamber. Senate majority leader Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, pledged Tuesday that “we will try to work a path to get [statehood] done,” and the White House asked Congress in a policy statement to pass the legislation as swiftly as possible.

But the political odds remain formidable, with the Senate filibuster requiring the support of 60 senators to advance legislation. Republicans, who hold 50 seats, have branded the bill as a Democratic power grab because it would create two Senate seats for the deep-blue city. Not even all Senate Democrats have backed the bill as the clock ticks toward the 2022 midterm election.

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Washington Post

GOP senators offer an early infrastructure plan

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Thursday offered an early counterproposal in the nascent Washington debate over improving the country’s aging infrastructure, endorsing roughly $568 billion in new spending that could be financed through higher fees on some drivers.

The package marks a significant departure from the roughly $2 trillion blueprint put forward by President Biden earlier this month. It highlights the wide gulf between Democrats and Republicans over priorities for addressing the nation’s infrastructure and the means by which the country should pay for it.

The plan backed by Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and other GOP lawmakers who hold key committee posts puts their funds toward repairing roads, highways, and bridges; upgrading aging water pipes; and improving airports, sea ports, and broadband connectivity. In doing so, the GOP plan takes a more narrow view of infrastructure reform than Biden, who has sought to proffer major investments in other areas of the economy, including schools and elder care.

Republicans also recommend recovering the costs of their spending through fees imposed on those who use the infrastructure. That could include new charges on the owners of electric vehicles, though GOP lawmakers said they also hoped to cover some of the spending by repurposing other unused federal funds.

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The plan includes no new tax increases on US corporations, unlike Biden’s proposal, which financed infrastructure reforms through a partial change to the cuts imposed under former president Donald Trump.

The new GOP plan as introduced is unlikely to win much favor among Democrats in Congress and the White House, as Biden has firmly maintained he will not raise taxes on Americans making less than $400,000 per year. Raising the gas tax, for example, threatens to violate the pledge, at least in spirit, and the president has indicated he does not support the idea.

But the Republican counteroffer still sets the parameters for further negotiations between the parties. It comes as Biden continues to huddle with blocs of key lawmakers in the Capitol in an attempt to solicit the sort of bipartisan compromise that eluded the White House as it secured passage of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan earlier this year.

Washington Post

Details emerge on Biden’s plan to boost economy

WASHINGTON — The next phase of President Biden’s $4 trillion push to overhaul the US economy will seek to raise taxes on millionaire investors to fund education and other spending plans, but it will not take steps to expand health coverage or reduce prescription drug prices, according to people familiar with the proposal.

Administration officials had planned to include a health care expansion of up to $700 billion, offset by efforts to reduce government spending on prescription drugs. But they have decided to instead pursue health care as a separate initiative, a move that sidesteps a fight among liberals on Capitol Hill but that risks upsetting some progressive groups that have pushed Biden to prioritize health issues.

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The president is set to outline his so-called American Family Plan, which includes measures aimed at helping Americans gain skills throughout life and have more flexibility in the workforce, before his first address to a joint session of Congress next week. Its details remain a work in progress and could change in the days before the announcement.

But after weeks of work, administration officials have closed in on the final version of what will be the second half of Biden’s sweeping economic agenda, which also includes the $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan the president described last month. That plan focused largely on physical infrastructure spending, like repairing bridges and water pipes and building electric vehicle charging stations, and was funded by tax increases on corporations.

The second phase centers on what administration officials call “human infrastructure.” It will spend hundreds of billions of dollars each on universal prekindergarten, expanded subsidies for child care, a national paid leave program for workers, and free community college tuition for all.

It also seeks to extend through 2025 an expanded tax credit for parents — which is essentially a monthly payment from the government for most families — that was created on a temporary basis by the $1.9 trillion economic aid package Biden signed into law last month. The duration of that extension was earlier reported by The Washington Post.

New York Times