WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden met with members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus on Thursday as the group pushes for more Asian American representation in his administration and for legislation aimed at combating anti-Asian American hate crimes.
The meeting comes as legislation makes its way through Congress that would strengthen hate crime reporting and speed up the Justice Department's review of such crimes. The Senate voted 92-6 to take up the bill for debate and amendments on Wednesday.
Biden said at the meeting that he was "heartened by the Senate's overwhelming bipartisan effort" to get the bill passed.
The White House has been criticized by two members of the group — Democratic Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii — over the lack of Asian American and Pacific Islanders serving in top roles in his administration. The pair had threatened last month to oppose Biden’s nominees unless the administration included more Asian American representation.
In response, the White House on Wednesday announced the appointment of Erika Moritsugu as its Asian American and Pacific Islander liaison. Moritsugu was a vice president at the National Partnership for Women and Families, heading up the group’s Economic Justice team, and an assistant secretary of housing and urban development during the Obama administration.
"We need to stand with the AAPI community in the whole-of-government response with what we have to get done," Biden said. "When I came into office, the first bill I signed related to racial equity throughout the government. That's still the plan, that's my objective."
Hate crimes against Asian Americans have risen during the coronavirus pandemic. An analysis released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, this month examined hate crimes in 16 of America’s largest cities. It found that while overall hates crimes decreased by 7 percent last year, those targeting Asian people rose by nearly 150 percent.
Former President Donald Trump repeatedly blamed China for the coronavirus pandemic, dismissing concerns that his rhetoric could stoke anti-Asian incidents and violence or discrimination.