Our nation is in the midst of a historic crime wave that’s affecting Americans of every background and walk of life.

This surge in violence includes a shocking rise in hate crimes against our fellow citizens of Asian descent. Last year, the total number of hate crimes in America’s largest cities dropped by seven percent—but they surged by nearly 150 percent against Asian-Americans.

Often these hate crimes target the elderly and the frail—people who can’t even fight back against their vicious assailants. Just last month, a 65-year-old Asian-American woman was knocked to the ground and repeatedly kicked in broad daylight on the streets of New York City, while her attacker shouted anti-Asian slurs.

We later learned that her attacker was a convicted murderer out on parole thanks to criminal leniency policies. Instead of being in prison, locked up, where he belonged, he was brutalizing an innocent victim in broad daylight. Yet more proof that being weak on crime doesn’t reduce crime—it only invites more crime.

A civilized society can’t ignore such attacks on our innocent citizens. We have to protect them. We have to protect every citizen and get tough on violent hate crimes.

Unfortunately, in response to this terrible rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, Democrats initially introduced an extremely partisan bill intended to score political points.

This flawed piece of legislation that the Senator from Hawaii originally contained provisions tailor-made to muzzle free speech. For example, the bill would have directed the Department of Justice to tell Americans how they were supposed to talk about this virus.  I voted against proceeding to this bill in part because of this crazy, radical idea to impose a speech code on how Americans can talk about this virus. Now some say, “How could you vote against it?” Very simple: I will never support a speech code imposed on the American people on how they can exercise their first amendment rights to talk about this pandemic. This whole idea is deeply concerning, especially because some of the media, and some of our Democratic friends, believe that even pointing out the virus came from China is somehow inciting violence.

That’s as foolish as it is dangerous.  Calling this virus—which, yes, came from Wuhan, China—the “Wuhan virus” is not racist, and it doesn’t incite violence. You may recall that early last year, journalists from such esteemed outlets as CNN, Reuters, the Washington Post, and the New York Times all used the terms “Chinese virus,” “Chinese coronavirus,” and “Wuhan coronavirus.” Were they inciting violence? Were they racist? No, of course not. They were following the centuries-old practice of referring to diseases by geographic names. It wasn’t anti-Spanish to call influenza outbreak in 1918 the Spanish flu—even though it didn’t even start in Spain. It’s not anti-Egypt to use the term “West Nile Virus.” What about variants of this virus? From Brazil, from South Africa, from Great Britain, we use those terms. Is that somehow going to have to be banned from polite society’s lexicon, as well? 

Second, I also want to point out that the Democrats’ original bill, supposedly about violence against Asian-Americans, never actually used the term “Asian-American”—not once. Instead it had some new, manufactured, mysterious term called: “COVID-19 hate crime.” This could have set the precedent for even wider suppression of free speech against citizens who have no animus towards Asians and who haven’t committed any crimes. Citizens, for instance, who are concerned about the spread of coronavirus due to the surge of illegal immigration at our border. According to the mainstream media, if you so much as ask a question about the unvaccinated and untested persons entering our country at the border every day, you’re somehow bigoted, or nativist, or a xenophobe. This original version of the bill with the language “COVID-19 hate crimes” could have resulted in individuals opposed to illegal immigration being reported for merely expressing opinion.

But I am happy to report that this process which had a bitter partisan beginning will soon have a rather uplifting and unifying end, thanks to the diligent work of one of the hardest working Senators in the United States Senate, the Senator from Maine, these offensive provisions of the Democrats’ original bill have been removed. The Senator of Maine has helped turn what was a bitter partisan piece of legislation into something that now members of both parties can hopefully support. Thanks to her efforts, this legislation is specifically focused on the crisis at hand and will improve reporting of anti-Asian hate crimes. Soon, we’ll also vote on a series of amendments from some of my fellow Senators to improve this legislation even further. I look forward in voting for those amendments, for the substitute amendment, and for the bill as amended.

So today this chamber will take a step in fighting the rise in anti-Asian violence. I hope we continue to make progress so that every victim gets justice and that further attacks are deterred.