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Asian American lawmakers implore Republicans to tone down rhetoric in wake of attacks

“Your president and your party and your colleagues can talk about issues with any other country that you want, but you don’t have to do it by putting a bull’s-eye on the back of Asian Americans across this country, on our grandparents, on our kids,” Rep. Grace Meng, a Democrat from New York, said to Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas during a House committee hearing on discrimination against Asian Americans.

“This hearing was to address the hurt and pain of our community and to find solutions, and we will not let you take our voice from us,” said Meng, who grew visibly emotional as she spoke.

Earlier Thursday during the hearing, Roy said his “concern about this hearing is that it seems to want to venture into the policing of rhetoric in a free society, free speech, and away from the rule of law and taking out bad guys.”

Much of his opening remarks were focused on the Chinese government, including speaking out against the country’s treatment of the Uighur people and its mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I think the Chinese Communist Party running the country of China, I think they’re the bad guys,” he said.

He continued, “I’m not going to be ashamed of saying I oppose … the Chinese Communist Party. And when we say things like that, and we’re talking about that, we shouldn’t be worried about having a committee of members of Congress policing our rhetoric because some evil-doers go engage in some evil activity as occurred in Atlanta, Georgia.”

In arguing that Americans “want justice” for victims, Roy also said, “There’s an old saying in Texas about find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree. You know, we take justice very seriously and we ought to do that, round up the bad guys.”

Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu, who is an immigrant from Taiwan who served active duty in the US Air Force, also pushed back against Roy’s remarks, saying the hearing is “not about policing speech.”

“I served in active duty so you can say whatever you want under the First Amendment, you can say racist stupid stuff if you want,” Lieu said in comments Thursday. “But I’m asking you to please stop using racist terms like ‘Kung flu,’ or ‘Wuhan virus’ or other ethnic identifiers in describing this virus. I am not a virus and when you say things like that, it hurts the Asian American community.”

‘Our community is bleeding’

Thursday’s hearing was the first hearing in over three decades focused on the discrimination Asian Americans face in the country. Anti-Asian hate incidents have been on the rise since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the racism and xenophobia against Asian immigrants and Asian Americans dates back to the 19th century.

During Thursday’s hearing, several Asian American female lawmakers, including Reps. Meng, Doris Matsui, Judy Chu, Young Kim and Michelle Steel and Sen. Tammy Duckworth testified about the discrimination the community has faced.

“Our community is bleeding. We’ve been in pain and for the past year we’ve been screaming out for help,” Meng said.

Democratic Rep. Judy Chu, who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, testified that the “Asian American community has reached a crisis point that cannot be ignored.”

“What started out last January as just dirty looks and verbal assault have escalated to physical attacks and violence against innocent Asian Americans,” she added.

Some of the Democratic lawmakers on the panel contributed the rise in attacks to the rhetoric former President Donald Trump and other Republican lawmakers used in referring to Covid-19.

Chu said the anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents were “stoked by the words of former President Donald Trump who sought to shift blame and anger away from his own flawed response to the pandemic.” She pointed to Trump’s use of “racist slurs” in referring to Covid-19, even after the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided the official terminology for the virus and advised not to use geographic locations in naming diseases because it creates a stigma.

Other panel witnesses included actor Daniel Dae Kim, University of Minnesota professor Erika Lee, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice president John C. Yang, along with other advocates and experts.

Asian Americans have reported being targeted at least 500 times in the first two months of this year, according to a recent report from the organization Stop AAPI Hate. The majority of these — 68% — were verbal harassment, while 11% involved physical assaults, according to Stop AAPI Hate. The group said it received at least 3,795 complaints since it began tracking violence and harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on March 19 of last year.
The hearing also comes after a string of shootings in the Atlanta area left eight people dead — six of whom were of Asian women. Though the motive of the killer is still being investigated, the killings have exacerbated existing fears among the Asian American community.
Last session of Congress, the House passed a resolution sponsored by Meng condemning anti-Asian sentiment amid the coronavirus pandemic. All but a handful of Republicans opposed the resolution, saying they condemn all forms of racism and anti-Asian sentiment, but accused Democrats of using the resolution as a vehicle to attack Trump.
Meng has reintroduced the resolution this session and has proposed a bill that would expedite Department of Justice’s reviews of Covid-19 hate crimes.

Steel, a California Republican and South Korean immigrant, has introduced a similar resolution with Democratic Rep. Katie Porter that condemns hate crimes committed against Asian-American and Pacific Islanders.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s Nicole Chavez and Sarah Fortinsky contributed to this report.

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