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Biden, Harris to meet with Asian American leaders in Georgia to offer support after shootings

They had initially planned to visit Atlanta to promote the Covid-19 relief package.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris walk along the Colonnade as they arrive to speak about the American Rescue Plan at the White House on March 12, 2021.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris walk along the colonnade as they arrive to speak about the American Rescue Plan at the White House on March 12.Alex Brandon / AP

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with Asian American community leaders during a scheduled visit to Georgia on Friday in the wake of the spa shootings in Atlanta that left eight people dead, six of whom were women of Asian descent.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden and Harris will meet with representatives of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, state lawmakers and community advocates to "hear about the impact of the incident on the community and to get their perspective on the rise of Anti-Asian hate incidents."

Biden and Harris' visit to Atlanta, which will be their first joint trip since taking office, had initially been scheduled as part of the administration's "Help is Here" tour promoting the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package.

The shooting Tuesday night caused the White House to shift the focus of the visit, announcing Thursday afternoon that the American Rescue Plan event would be postponed to a later date.

Psaki said that Biden would offer his support to the Asian American community on Friday and highlight his commitment to "combating xenophobia, intolerance and hate."

Biden and Harris will also visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is headquartered in Atlanta, to receive an update on the fight against the pandemic.

A gunman shot and killed eight people at three spas in the Atlanta area Tuesday night. Cherokee County Sheriff's Capt. Jay Baker said that after a brief manhunt, Robert Aaron Long, 21, was arrested and later confessed to the attack.

Baker said at a news conference Wednesday that Long claimed the attack was not racially motivated. The suspect told investigators that he had a "sex addiction" and that he saw the spas as "a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate," Baker said. Law enforcement officials said Long was believed to have previously visited the spas he targeted.

Democrats and community leaders in Georgia have said that race cannot be ignored as a motive, especially considering that Anti-Asian American hate incidents have dramatically increased during the pandemic, with a disproportionate number of attacks directed at women.

Biden said Wednesday that he understood the concerns among Asian Americans as investigators work to determine a motive.

"Whatever the motivation here, I know Asian Americans, they are very concerned, because as you know, I have been speaking about the brutality against Asian Americans, and it's troubling," he said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the rhetoric former President Donald Trump employed in speaking about the pandemic, often using derogatory language to describe the coronavirus, such as referring to it as the "Kung Flu," put Asian Americans at risk.

"I think there’s no question that some of the damaging rhetoric that we saw during the prior administration calling Covid the 'Wuhan virus' or other things led to perceptions of the Asian American community that are inaccurate and unfair, and has elevated threats," Psaki said Wednesday.

Biden ordered flags to be flown at half-staff Thursday as a mark of respect for the victims of the Atlanta shooting.