May 18, 2021
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act Press Conference Transcript May 18
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a press conference on the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act with members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus on May 18, 2021. Read the transcript of the news briefing here.
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Judy Chu: (01:10)
Hello, I’m Congress Member Judy Chu, and as Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, or CAPAC, I’m honored to be joined by my incredible colleagues ahead of today’s historic vote to pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.
Judy Chu: (01:25)
I’m so proud to be standing here with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, as well as the two leads of the bill that the Senate passed last month, Congress Members Grace Meng and Don Beyer. And of course, it means so much to have the support of so many of our Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who’s on the floor right now, but will join us shortly. And of course, I’m also honored to have standing with us Congress Members Mark Takono, Marilyn Strickland, Al Green, Barbara Lee, and Jimmy Panetta.
Judy Chu: (02:03)
After a year in which we’ve seen 6,600 reported anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents, and after a year of the Asian American community crying out, today, Congress is taking historic action to pass long overdue hate crimes legislation and send the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act to President Biden’s desk.
Judy Chu: (02:27)
Already, the bill passed the Senate by an overwhelming vote of 94 to 1, which is an almost unheard of showing of bipartisan support these days, and it shows just how much the near daily tragedies of anti-Asian violence have shocked our nation into action.
Judy Chu: (02:45)
Over the past year, videos like the murder of Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84 year old Thai man who was killed in an unprovoked assault while just taking his walk in his neighborhood in San Francisco, or the 65 year old Filipino woman in New York City who was violently beaten on her way to church and yet nobody intervened, these incidents have terrified the Asian American community, but it was not until the gunman targeted three Asian-owned spas in Georgia and killed eight people, including six Asian women, that we finally saw national attention brought to the pain and violence that Asian Americans have endured throughout the pandemic. That is why, following these murders, I led a CAPAC delegation to Georgia to meet with the community and speak with the families of those who were lost. And we followed the route that the killer took because we wanted to show how deliberate and intentional he was in going out of his way to target Asian women. It was clear that this was a hate crime, and I’m glad that just last week, prosecutors announced that they would seek enhanced hate crime charges against the shooter.
Judy Chu: (04:02)
But the sad reality is that hate crimes continue to remain under-reported. In fact, three states don’t even have a hate crime statute in place. That’s why today’s vote is so important. Congress Member Grace Meng’s COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act would help improve our hate crime response by creating a new position at the US Department of Justice to better track and address COVID-related hate crimes and incidents. And this also includes the text of the bill that I co-lead with Congress Member Don Beyer, and that’s the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, which will improve hate crime reporting and provide resources for states to establish their own hate crime hotlines and resources for law enforcement to improve their hate crime response.
Judy Chu: (04:55)
So I want to once again thank Congress Member Grace Meng and Senator Mazie Hirono who led the introduction of the COVID 19 Hate Crimes Act, and Congress Member Don Beyer and Senator Blumenthal who introduced the bi-partisan NO HATE Act. And I’d also like to thank President Biden and Vice President Harris, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Judiciary Committee Chair Nadler, who made today’s vote possible.
Judy Chu: (05:24)
So thank you again for joining us, and now it’s my pleasure to introduce our next speaker, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler.
Jerry Nadler: (05:38)
Well, thank you very much, Judy. I want to begin by thanking Speaker Pelosi for bringing this legislation to the floor, Grace Meng and Don Beyer for introducing the bills that make up today’s legislation, and Judy Chu for all of her work advocating the AAPI community.
Jerry Nadler: (05:54)
Today, we’ll take a vital first step toward understanding and addressing the full scope of the disturbing rise in hate crimes in America, particularly against Asian Americans that we have seen in recent years, which we know is vastly under-reported and under-resourced. This legislation sends a clear message to those in our country who wish to harm their fellow citizens, hate has no home here.
Jerry Nadler: (06:18)
We’re endorsing, we’re enduring rather, a hate crimes crisis in America. New York City saw a 73% increase in hate crimes between January 1st and May 2nd, compared to that same period last year, with 80 reported hate crimes against Asian Americans in the first quarter of 2021. And we are seeing this pattern play out in major cities across the country.
Jerry Nadler: (06:42)
This documented rise in violent hate crimes against the Asian Americans fits tragically into the broader and deeply troubling trend of hate-based violence and mass murder in America. Hate crimes surged in 2019. Even worse, they became more violent. A record 51 bias motivated murders occurred in 2019 alone, including the devastating mass shooting of 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. The data is both humbling and frightening and shows no sign of letting up.
Jerry Nadler: (07:19)
In a single weekend just this month, there were at least four more heartbreaking attacks on Asian Americans in my home city of New York. This violence is echoed in reports across the country. On March 30th of this year, I stood with community leaders after yet another devastating attack in our community, where a man attacked the 65 year old woman of Filipino descent on a busy sidewalk in my district. For those who have seen the video, you know that he stomped on her repeatedly while yelling racial epithets as she laid injured on the ground.
Jerry Nadler: (07:52)
As I said during our March hearing in the Judiciary Committee on violence and discrimination against Asian Americans, the victims of this racist hate are not strangers who pose a threat merely because of their race or ethnicity. Rather, they are our neighbors, our friends, our family members, our constituents, and our fellow Americans, and the increasing danger they face is not just from the pandemic, but from their fellow citizens.
Jerry Nadler: (08:18)
Everyone deserves to live without fear of violence against themselves and their families, and our country needs a way forward past this era of violence and hate. The swift passage and implementation of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act will prove crucial to this endeavor. I look forward to sending this important legislation to President Biden’s desk and seeing it signed into law, and I thank everyone here who has made that possible.
Jerry Nadler: (08:43)
And now I want to introduce one of the sponsors of the legislation, Congresswoman Grace Meng.
Grace Meng: (08:55)
Thank you so much, Chairman Nadler, for your leadership on this issue, and of course, to our chairperson of CAPAC, Judy Chu, for your leadership-
Grace Meng: (09:03)
To our chairperson of CAPAC, Judy Chu for your leadership as well. Good morning, I’m Congresswoman Grace Meng from Queens, New York. First, happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Every year in May is the time to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of Asian-Americans, but this year is different. It’s different because the past year and a half has been one of pain and struggle, marked by despicable and sickening acts of hate and violence against the Asian-American community. Those of Asian descent have been blamed and scapegoated for the outbreak of COVID-19. And as a result, Asian-Americans have been beaten, slashed, spat on, and even set on fire and killed. The Asian-American community is exhausted from being forced to endure this rise in bigotry and racist attacks. Asian-Americans are tired of living in fear and being frightened about their kids or elderly parents going outside.
Grace Meng: (10:10)
People often ask, what Congress is doing about this? And we are here today to say that Congress is taking action. Asian-Americans have been screaming out for help and the House, and Senate, and President Biden have clearly heard our pleas. Over a year ago, I first introduced my COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act to combat xenophobia and violence. And I’m so thankful to see the measure moving forward in the House today, following the nearly unanimous and overwhelmingly bipartisan support, the bill received last month in the Senate. Thanks to Senator Hirono and Majority Leader Schumer. I’m truly heartened to see so many of my colleagues over the last year and few months stand against this intolerance and join us in saying that enough is enough. There is no place for hate, underscoring that the discrimination and violence against those of Asian descent is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Demonstrating that Congress has the Asian-American communities’ back, and making clear that an attack on the Asian-American community is an attack on all of us.
Grace Meng: (11:26)
I also want to thank the many different communities that have shown tremendous solidarity with Asian-Americans in our fight against this discrimination. Leaders from the Black, Hispanic, Native American, Jewish, Muslim, LGBTQ communities, and so many others that have stood by our side and spoken up for us. In my entire lifetime, I have never seen and felt so much solidarity and such a widespread showing of concern and support from so many beyond the Asian-American community. This allyship has been vital to fighting this prejudice and violence. It means a lot for our community and to me personally, and has helped us to get to this point with the bill. The most basic and fundamental role of government is to protect the safety of its citizens. And we need to make sure that we are fulfilling that obligation when it comes to combating these disgraceful assaults on the APA community.
Grace Meng: (12:31)
So let’s pass our COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act in the House today. Let’s get this crucial legislation to the finish line so that President Biden can sign it into law. For too long, Asian-Americans have been seen as invisible and silent. We are often viewed as foreigners and outsiders, but today we are at a galvanizing moment where we say loud and clear that we are as American as anyone else in this country. And that we will be seen as invisible no more. As I’ve said with all of us working together, I’m hopeful that we will stop Asian hate.
Grace Meng: (13:12)
Thank you. And now it is my honor to introduce the speaker of the House, a wonderful friend and ally of the APA community, who’s been a steadfast supporter of this bill and of our community. She’s publicly stood with us from the very, very beginning when the sentiment first reared its ugly head. And thanks to her leadership, this bill is on the cusp of becoming the law of the land, Speaker Pelosi.
Nancy Pelosi: (13:37)
Thank you very much, Grace Meng for your work wonderful leadership, for the representation that you bring to the Congress of a great district in the state of New York. I’ve had the honor of visiting you there to see how you benefit from the, shall we say, exuberance of your beautiful, diverse constituency, many from the AAPI community. Our Congress is truly blessed by your leadership as manifested today in this legislation on the brink of becoming, as you said, the law of the land, it is a momentous day. And so I want to salute all of our colleagues who are here, some who will speak, some who are the resource in this conversation and their leadership has made a tremendous difference.
Nancy Pelosi: (14:26)
I want to thank Judy Chu, the chair of CAPAC, who has been, well, I would say relentless is a minor word to use for her. In every manifestation, whether it’s in her Committee of Ways and Means, whether it’s in the crescendo meetings and the rest, whether it’s in the full caucus to constantly bring to the attention of members. What the challenges out there, what the possibilities are for going forward. And today we will do so in a bipartisan way. Thank you, Judy Chu for your leadership of CAPAC. Don Beyer is champion of the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act and you will hear from him, I’ll introduce him momentarily. And I thought that Jerry Nadler’s statement was not only a great statement for today, but a statement about his life in the Congress where he has been making this fight for a very long time about ending hate in America.
Nancy Pelosi: (15:27)
As Congresswoman Meng was speaking, I was recalling the day, a month ago, was it? I lost track of time when we were on the Senate side, was it the day of the president’s announced, it was about a month ago. In an event when we were standing there with Leader Schumer, with Mazie Hirono, with Tammy Duckworth, with Andy Kim, and with our distinguished author of this legislation, Grace Meng. And the thought that, that bill was going to be going to the floor of the Senate and receiving bipartisan support was such a glorious, a glorious spot. And now here we are following up on it. It did happen to make it the law of the land. It’s so important. And I want to salute President Biden. Right from the start, within hours of his inauguration, he said, how important this was directed Department of Justice. Even before we had an attorney general to take this on hand and to improve how we could make the count to fully document has been said, you can’t fight it unless you can identify it more clearly. And he has been in support of that.
Nancy Pelosi: (16:50)
And when he made his announcement on COVID, his speech to the nation on that subject, he included the AAPI violence as a challenge in our country. So this has been so much a part of the White House. I know he will welcome this legislation when it comes to him. Nearly 3,800 incidents of anti-AAPI attacks in all 50 states have been reported over the past year. Businesses vandalized, and seniors attacked, families in fear. I can speak to that firsthand from my own district, which is magnificently blessed by a large AAPI community. As a Californian, I’ve seen the pain. As I say, in my own community, including AAPI serving clinic in Chinatown, and when speaking to Bay Area AAPI groups in Chinatown, when we were there to talk about vaccines, reaching out and the rest to hear from the community directly. This epidemic of anti-AAPI bigotry is a challenge to the conscience of our country, which demands bold effective action. The best bigotry is more shameful giving the AAPI-
Nancy Pelosi: (18:03)
… this bigotry is more shameful, giving the AAPI’s community heroism, two million fighting on the front lines of the pandemic. Two million AAPI heroes fighting on the front line of it. The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act will strengthen our defenses to prevent, report and combat anti-AAPI violence, and it will build on steps, as I mentioned, 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.
Nancy Pelosi: (18:35)
We know how we got into this situation. No need going into that, but let’s get out of it and the Senate, this legislation passed nearly unanimously, except for one person and we hope to see that unity reflected here in the House. The AAPI Heritage Month, this month, the month of May, let us honor the AAPI community’s contribution with action, ensuring every person can live with safety, dignity and hope. What I hope is that the unity that’s springing from this legislation will further engender more unity on other challenges that we face. Now it is my honor to yield the floor to the distinguished gentleman from Virginia, Mr. Beyer, who, as been mentioned, has been a leader in the Jabara-Heyer No Hate Act. Mr. Beyer.
Mr. Beyer: (19:26)
Thank you, Madam Speaker. I’m honored to follow the most excellent speaker, who is leading the most productive and accomplished Congress in generations. Thank you to Chairman Adler for taking hate crime so seriously and for being a real partner and leader on this topic. I’d also like to acknowledge we’ve been joined by Congresswoman Doris Matsui and Congressman [Healey 00:19:51] as part of this press conference. Thanks so much to Grace Meng and Judy Chu for actually getting this through the Senate and bringing it to the floor today. Let’s thank the stop AAPI hate group who are able to actually count the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes last year and help us make context to this great need. This is exactly what’s needed because we have known there’s been an undercount of hate crimes for years and years.
Mr. Beyer: (20:19)
How many hate crimes happened every year? The truth is we just have no idea. We know that many police departments don’t report any data at all to the FBI, roughly 2,400. We also know that of the 18,000 that do report, something like 86% report zero hate crimes last year, including 71 cities with over 100,000 people. This would be great if it were true, but no one really believes it. As Grace so well said, right now we’re paying special attention because of COVID to the AAPI community, but this is long afflicted for the black community, the Muslims, our Latino friends, LGBT folks and many, many others. I’ve always believed that the more transparency and data we have, the better we can understand the problem. We’re here today speaking to journalists who must believe that when you report on something, you change it on. The basic notion is you can’t manage something that you’re not measuring. With this bill, we’re providing the excellent tool to actually stop and measure AAPI hate crimes and all the other hate crimes and give our leaders the tools to move forward. With that, let me yield back to our MC for the day, the leader of this effort, Madam Chu.
Judy Chu: (21:38)
Yes. Now we’ll open it up to questions. Yes.
Speaker 1: (21:46)
Ms. Chu, I think all of us have seen videos of the horrific hate incidents directed at Asian Americans. There were two Asian women in New York who were attacked with a hammer. In Nancy Pelosi’s district, in San Francisco, there were two women who were were stabbed while waiting at a bus stop. We’re not hearing too much about the role of mental illness in these incidents. Can you talk a little bit about whether you believe that mental illness is playing a part in some of these hate incidents?
Judy Chu: (22:18)
Well, one thing I can say definitively is that these hate crimes have taken a huge toll on the AAPI community’s mental health. In fact, there is a study that’s a year long now, very extensive in-depth study by the Asian American Psychological Association, which looked at the different issues that AAPIs are facing right now. As you know there’s so many with COVID-19, the decline in small businesses, but guess what is number one as far as issues for Asian Americans? It’s mental health. 50% report that they have an issue with mental health right now.
Judy Chu: (23:02)
What is it like to open up the newspaper every day and see that yet another Asian American has been assaulted, attacked and even killed? Well, when you read that every single day and see that there are 6,600 of them and that’s probably an under-reporting, then you start to think, well, will I be next? That’s the kind of mental situation that AAPIs are facing right now. It is a heavy toll I can tell you that.
Speaker 1: (23:42)
Anything you can talk about in terms of mental illness related to the perpetrator?
Nancy Pelosi: (23:47)
Yes. Of course, obviously there are mental issues that are endemic to those who have perpetuated these crimes. It shows that we have to have a better response overall to mental illness in our nation because there’s certainly are far from resources there. Anybody else want to?
Grace Meng: (24:16)
Your question goes to one of the most important reasons why we need legislation like this because we need to have better data to be able to better assess the situation, including the mental health state of the perpetrators. I speak more from a local perspective because in New York City there have been recent efforts to more efficiently investigate and to collect data on these incidents. There was a report I saw just yesterday where almost half of the perpetrators are suffering from mental health issues and this is precisely why we need legislation like this to get a better picture of the situation, but let’s be clear that this legislation is very important to going towards solving this issue, but it is only one piece. Like you mentioned, mental health is incredibly important and we do need more services and investment in general.
Speaker 2: (25:13)
[inaudible 00:25:13] those perpetrators are mentally I’ll. I believe and I assert, that leadership at the top level makes a difference. We can do a lot with statistics and we need better data, but no, I think it’s common sense that if you have a destabilizing leader or destabilizing leaders, the influencers, they can also destabilize those who are vulnerable in terms of their mental stability to act out.
Tia Mitchell: (25:51)
Hi, Tia Mitchell from the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act is on the suspension calendar and you know that Republicans have increasingly used delay tactics. Do you think there’s a chance your bill might not get a vote today and what message do you think that sends, if any?
Judy Chu: (26:10)
This bill is certain to get a vote today. It is on the agenda. It has been put there. That is why it was so significant that the Senate passed it out with this vote of 94 to 1. As you know, have not seen too many bipartisan votes like that, that have made it out of the Senate. With our vote today in the house, it is a certainty to be passed and then to be sent to President Biden’s desks. We have actually no concerns that it will not pass out of the house.
Speaker 3: (26:44)
Thank you Representative. Back in 2012 you helped lead the effort for, essentially an official congressional apology over things like the [inaudible 00:26:52] and the Chinese Exclusion Act. I know several years later assemblymen came up in New York called on former President Obama to do so and he did not. Have you had conversations with this white house? Would you like to see President Joe Biden…
Speaker 3: (27:03)
Have you had conversations with this White House? Would you like to see President Joe Biden do what no president has done and issue an official apology from the Oval Office about 139 years later for the Chinese Exclusion Act?
Judy Chu: (27:15)
Of course, I would like to see every level of government issued an apology for the Chinese Exclusion Act, which made Chinese Americans second class citizens before 60 long years in this country. That being said, I have to say that President Biden has done more for Asian Americans than I’ve seen in a long time. I mean just looking a week issuing the presidential memorandum to deal with the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on Asian American communities and condemning the hate crimes as well as directing the Department of Justice to work with the AAIP communities was a huge step after a year of being totally ignored by President Trump, who actually doubled down on his usage of the terms China virus and Wuhan virus. And President Biden continued on by meeting with leaders in Georgia, the AAPI leaders after the shooting, and then having the flags flown at half staff, and then meeting with us in the Oval Office to discuss even further ways that he is going to combat AAPI hate crimes. He has been a complete role model in terms of his response to the AAPI community.
Nicholas Wu: (28:33)
Thanks. Nicholas Wu with Politico. It seems that there are some progressive groups, 18 Million Rising among them that are opposing this legislation because they say it focuses too much on law enforcement. Do you have any response to that?
Judy Chu: (28:51)
Grace Meng: (28:54)
Thank you for the question. First of all, I do appreciate their input. I do want to say and emphasize that this legislation allocates no new funding to law enforcement, and we understand the issues that they raise about law enforcement, for example. But this legislation does assume that law enforcement is currently under-reporting these kinds of incidents, and it makes it easy to ignore hate crimes altogether. So that’s why we believe that this response is necessary. I know that in their letter, they raise other issues as well, which just as we’re talking about issues like mental health, we should absolutely address.
Speaker 4: (29:48)
Thank you, Congresswoman Chu. As you know, the DOJ has launched an investigation and expedited review on the investigation and prosecution against hate crimes. And I was wondering if you or members of CAPAC had any talks with the DOJ to follow up with the effort, and what do you think the next step should be?
Judy Chu: (30:10)
Well, as you know, I led a delegation to Atlanta, Georgia, and we did it to meet with the victims, but also to trace the steps of the shooter because we were alarmed when we’re hearing the reports from the Cherokee County Sheriff saying that the shootings were as a result of a sex addiction and basically, anything other than that, it was a hate crime. I then, when we came back, led a letter in which I asked for the Department of Justice to use their resources to investigate this as a hate crime. And thankfully, they did do this. I must tell you also that we have met with the Department of Justice, but not since they declared this to be something that they will prosecute as a hate crime. Nonetheless, we actually have a request into Attorney General Merrick Garland to meet with him soon.
Speaker 4: (31:06)
Would you like to follow up with that with another meeting?
Judy Chu: (31:09)
Oh, of course. Yes, absolutely. Yes.
Speaker 5: (31:13)
We’re in another in-between time in this pandemic. And I’m wondering, as more Americans are taking off their masks, if there’s still concern about the virus and there’s a lot of questions about who’s vaccinated who’s not. I’m wondering what you feel the Asian American community in particular, are the dangers, or is there an opportunity now to try and get past this time and hate crime, or do you think the danger is as present as ever?
Judy Chu: (31:44)
You want, okay.
Speaker 6: (31:44)
Well, I know that during the pandemic, members of the Asian community felt that wearing a mask brought attention to them and so there may be Asian Americans, as we wind down the pandemic, and I walk outside without a mask, I follow CDC guidelines, but I know that people are at varying levels of comfort, and APIs who want to continue wearing the masks, they may feel very self-conscious about that. So that is an extra burden. That’s another piece of an extra burden that APIs, I think, carry.
Nancy Pelosi: (32:21)
I would like to add too. Hi. I am Marilyn Strickland. I think about wearing masks in general, and there’s a degree of anonymity that you have when you wear a mask. And as we talk about putting public safety at the forefront and making sure that people are vaccinated and that we’re actually doing something to address this virus, we do think about how that affects people who want to commit crime and people who may be victims of crime. And I think about the fact that a lot of older women who are Asian have been victims of these crimes. And so I think the question we ask ourselves, does taking the mask off and being safe give you more safety or does it give you more anonymity?
Nancy Pelosi: (32:59)
The other thing I remind us too of is, when you travel to Asian countries, people wear masks all the time, during flu season, when they ride the subway. And so it’s interesting to see how the conversation about masks will be, and making sure we keep it on what keeps our community safe, what do we do to keep public safety at the top of everything, and not letting it get as politicized as it has. But at the end of the day, this is about stopping the crimes, holding people accountable, and making sure that our communities all stay safe regardless of our background.
Judy Chu: (33:28)
Other questions? Okay. With that then, I thank you all for being here and we will end the press conference.
Nancy Pelosi: (34:07)
Thank you, everyone.
Speaker 6: (34:07)
Nancy Pelosi: (34:07)
Good job, Judy.
Grace Meng: (34:07)
Oh, my God. Thank you.