Ted Cruz changes course and votes to support bill to address hate crimes against Asian Americans

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz voted in favor of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, after initially opposing it, because of an amendment from a Republican colleague that passed. Credit: Jason Andrew/Pool via REUTERS

After initially opposing it, Sen. Ted Cruz voted in favor of a Senate bill that aims to combat hate crimes against Asian Americans, which overwhelmingly passed the Senate through a bipartisan 94-1 vote Thursday.

In a previous statement to The Texas Tribune, Cruz lambasted the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which was introduced into Congress by U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, D-New York, calling it “a Democratic messaging vehicle designed to push the demonstrably false idea that it is somehow racist to acknowledge that Covid-19 originated in Wuhan, China.”

A Cruz spokesperson Thursday said he ultimately decided to support the bill during the final vote because of an amendment added by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in cooperation with Hirono.

“While it was unfortunate that Senate Democrats blocked Sen. Cruz’s amendment to fight discrimination against Asian Americans in higher education, Sen. Cruz believes the adoption of Sen. Collins’ language made substantial improvements to this legislation and so he voted in support of the final proposal,” the spokesperson told the Tribune in an email.

Despite several failed Republican attempts to amend the bill, Hirono and Collins reached an agreement to modify the bill’s language “to broaden bipartisan support while retaining the purpose of the bill,” according to Hirono’s office.

Before it was passed, Cruz and Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, tried to amend the bill to “prohibit Federal funding for any institution of higher learning that discriminates against Asian Americans in recruitment, applicant review and admissions,” which was narrowly rejected in a 49-48 vote. It was among other unsuccessful Republican-led efforts to amend the bill.

Cruz previously accused Democrats of not taking racism seriously because they didn’t call out the U.S. Department of Justice for withdrawing its Trump-era affirmative action lawsuit against Yale University for allegedly discriminating against Asian American and white applicants through race-based admission quotas. The lawsuit was dropped in February after President Joe Biden took office.

In a joint statement, the two senators called the rejection of their amendment “an unbelievably cynical move.”

“Despite their calls to end racism, it is clear Democrats are only paying lip service to fighting discrimination against Asian Americans and will allow targeted discrimination against them to continue at America’s universities and colleges,” they said in the statement.

In response, Hirono said racial discrimination in higher education is already illegal and called the Cruz-Kennedy amendment a “transparent and cynical attack” on university policies that aim to promote diverse student bodies, according to Politico.

If signed into law, the bill would expedite the processing of hate crimes by assigning an employee at the Justice Department for that task. The Hirono-Collins amendment extended the amount of time the department has in designating the official to oversee that review from one day to seven.

The bill would also issue guidance to local law enforcement officials on making hate crime reporting more efficient through online reporting, which would be available in multiple languages. Additionally, the bill would expand “public education campaigns aimed at raising awareness of hate crimes and reaching victims."

Another key aspect of the bill is its plan to issue guidance that would be aimed at raising awareness of hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the amended bill. Former President Donald Trump regularly called COVID-19 “the China virus” while crimes against Asian Americans surged since the dawn of the pandemic in March 2020.

In San Antonio, an Asian restaurant was vandalized with anti-Asian racial slurs, and in Midland, an Asian American family was stabbed at a Sam's Club, according to WFAA.

According to Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that tracks Asian American discrimination, there were 103 incidents in Texas from March 19, 2020, to Feb. 28, 2021, which was among nearly 3,800 nationwide.

The U.S. House will eventually take up the bill, where it is expected to pass because of the Democratic majority.

“Today’s historic, bipartisan vote on the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act sends a powerful message of solidarity to the AAPI community—that the United States Senate rejects anti-Asian hate. Now, I urge the House to swiftly pass this legislation so the bill can go to President Biden to sign into law,” Hirono said in a written statement.

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