The Senate voted on Wednesday to advance legislation that would strengthen federal efforts to address hate crimes directed at Asian-Americans, paving the way for passage of the measure and sending a bipartisan denunciation of the sharp increase in discrimination and violence against Asian communities in the United States.
The vote came the same day that President Biden named a liaison from his administration to the Asian-American Pacific Islander community.
The bill, called the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, passed a procedural hurdle in a 92-to-6 vote, and a final vote is expected later this week. The bill — sponsored by Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, and Representative Grace Meng, Democrat of New York — would create a new position at the Justice Department to expedite the review of hate crimes related to the coronavirus pandemic, expand public channels to report such crimes, and require the department to issue guidance to mitigate racially discriminatory language in describing the pandemic.
Later on Wednesday, the White House announced the new position. Erika L. Moritsugu will serve as deputy assistant to the president and liaison to the A.A.P.I. community, a role created after the Senate’s two Asian-American Democrats, Ms. Hirono and Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, criticized the Biden administration for a lack of A.A.P.I. representation at the highest levels.
Ms. Moritsugu, who is of Japanese and Chinese descent, is currently the vice president at the National Partnership for Women & Families, a nonprofit group that advocates for women’s health, reproductive rights and economic equity. She previously served in the Obama administration as an assistant secretary in the Department of Housing and Urban Development and worked as the general counsel for Ms. Duckworth on Capitol Hill.
The announcement comes as attacks targeting Asian-Americans, many of them women or older people, have increased nearly 150 percent in the past year, according to experts who testified last month before a House panel. Ms. Hirono, the first Asian-American woman elected to the Senate, had spoken earlier this week in personal terms about violence against Asian-Americans, saying she no longer felt safe walking in public wearing headphones.
“At a time when the A.A.P.I. community is under siege,” Ms. Hirono said, “this bill is an important signal that Congress is taking anti-Asian racism and hatred seriously.”
Despite the lopsided vote, the legislation could run into roadblocks later in the week. Ms. Hirono told reporters that Republican and Democratic leaders were still negotiating the amendment process and that Republicans hoped to introduce at least 20 amendments — some, she said, that were not germane to the legislation.
Republicans had initially offered a tepid response to the bill but ultimately decided they could not line up in opposition to a hate-crime measure. Most rallied around it after Democrats said they would add a bipartisan provision — proposed by Senators Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, and Jerry Moran, Republican of Kansas — to establish state-run hate crime hotlines and provide grant money to law enforcement agencies that train their officers to identify hate crimes.
The legislation would also allow judges to mandate that individuals convicted under federal hate crime laws receive education about the targeted community.
A torrent of hate and violence against people of Asian descent around the United States began last spring, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Background: Community leaders say the bigotry was fueled by President Donald J. Trump, who frequently used racist language like “Chinese virus” to refer to the coronavirus.
- Data: The New York Times, using media reports from across the country to capture a sense of the rising tide of anti-Asian bias, found more than 110 episodes since March 2020 in which there was clear evidence of race-based hate.
- Underreported Hate Crimes: The tally may be only a sliver of the violence and harassment given the general undercounting of hate crimes, but the broad survey captures the episodes of violence across the country that grew in number amid Mr. Trump’s comments.
- In New York: A wave of xenophobia and violence has been compounded by the economic fallout of the pandemic, which has dealt a severe blow to New York’s Asian-American communities. Many community leaders say racist assaults are being overlooked by the authorities.
- What Happened in Atlanta: Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in shootings at massage parlors in Atlanta on March 16. The motives of the suspect, who has been charged with murder, are under investigation, but Asian communities across the United States are on alert because of a surge in attacks against Asian-Americans over the past year.
“As a proud husband of an Asian-American woman, I think this discrimination against Asian-Americans is a real problem,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, whose wife, Elaine Chao, is of Chinese descent.
Six Republicans — Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama — voted against advancing the bill.
Mr. Cotton said in a statement before the vote that “the Senate should have the benefit of hearing from the Department of Justice before blindly acting on this issue,” noting that Democrats had expedited the bill’s consideration before holding a hearing about it.