Biden to Meet Asian-American Leaders After Atlanta Spa Shootings

Biden to Meet Asian-American Leaders After Atlanta Spa Shootings

WASHINGTON—President Biden’s trip to Atlanta on Friday, originally planned as part of his Covid-19 stimulus promotional tour, will take on a different tone after shootings in the region this week left eight dead, including six women of Asian descent.

Mr. Biden intended to celebrate the $1.9 trillion package, which passed two months after a pair of victories in Georgia runoffs gave Democrats control of the Senate. He now plans to meet with Asian-American leaders in a state that has become a focal point in a national conversation about violence against Asian-Americans, as well as a partisan battleground over voter access.

Press secretary

Jen Psaki

said Mr. Biden will “offer his support for the AAPI community in Georgia and across the country and talk about his commitment to combating xenophobia, intolerance and hate.” Mr. Biden has ordered flags at federal buildings flown at half-staff in honor of the victims. He will also receive a briefing on Covid-19 at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The motive for the shootings hasn’t been determined, but the ethnicity of many of the victims prompted an outpouring by many Asian-Americans. Reports of hate crimes targeting Asian-Americans have increased in some U.S. cities since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, which first emerged in China.

Mr. Biden tweeted Wednesday: “We don’t yet know the motive, but what we do know is that the Asian-American community is feeling enormous pain tonight. The recent attacks against the community are un-American. They must stop.”

Eight people, many of them women of Asian descent, were killed in three shootings at massage parlors in the Atlanta area. Police have arrested and identified a suspect. Photo: Robin Rayne/Zuma Press

State Sen. Michelle Au, a Democrat and first-generation Chinese-American who will be part of the meetings with the president, said it was significant that Mr. Biden was focusing on violence against Asian-Americans.

“The fact of the most powerful man in the world speaking about it frankly and shining light on it in a way that no one has ever done before, that’s incredibly important for a lot of people,” said Ms. Au, the first Asian-American woman elected to the Georgia state Senate.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has said it is assisting local law enforcement with its investigation. FBI Director

Christopher Wray

told NPR on Thursday that “while the motive remains still under investigation at the moment, it does not appear that the motive was racially motivated.”

The Justice Department has made no public statements about the shootings. The department under Mr. Biden has said investigating and prosecuting hate crimes, particularly against Asian-American and Pacific-Islander communities, is a priority. Hate-crime cases are often challenging because the federal government must prove that a suspect was primarily motivated by hatred of the victims’ race or religion.

The shootings came as congressional Democrats were attempting to start a debate over gun laws, and the House recently passed a pair of gun-control bills that were blocked in the last Congress. While the president campaigned on a promise to make sweeping changes to gun laws, he hasn’t yet offered a plan. Ms. Psaki didn’t offer a timeline for a proposal Thursday, but said Mr. Biden was “committed” to the issue.

The president’s trip to Georgia is also likely to spotlight a growing battle over voting access. Democrats in the state say bills proposed by Georgia Republicans, which would add requirements or restrictions to mail-in voting, are attempts to suppress Democratic votes and game the system in the GOP’s favor. Republicans say they are trying to bolster faith in the voting process.

A competitive governor’s race is expected in the state next year, as well as a Senate contest.

Democrats in Washington are supporting legislation that would have the effect of voiding state voter-identification requirements and making permanent the widespread mail-in voting that was common in last year’s elections.

The fate of the legislation is uncertain in the Senate, which is split 50-50 with Vice President

Kamala Harris

able to break ties. Some Democrats have argued for changing the rules that require 60 votes to advance most legislation, known as the filibuster, to pass the voting changes, as well as other priorities.

Newly elected

Sen. Raphael Warnock

(D., Ga.) said on MSNBC on Thursday that “voting rights is bigger than the filibuster.”

Mr. Biden said earlier this week that he supports bringing back a requirement that senators must be present and talking on the floor to block bills. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has adamantly opposed changes to the filibuster, threatening to grind the Senate to a halt.

Congress has passed the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill that provides an economic boost to Americans. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib breaks down what’s in the bill and why it’s significant for the Biden administration. Photo illustration: Laura Kammermann

The White House said Mr. Biden plans to meet Friday with

Stacey Abrams,

the 2018 Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia who founded the voter registration group Fair Fight Action. The plans were first reported by the Associated Press.

Some Democrats fear the voting changes proposed by Georgia Republicans could erase their party’s recent gains in the state, where Mr. Biden narrowly defeated former President

Donald Trump

in the November election.

Nabilah Islam, a former Democratic congressional candidate and strategist, said Asian-American voters in Gwinnett County in the Atlanta suburbs played a key role in flipping the state for Mr. Biden and in helping Democrats win the Senate runoffs. “Absolutely, we need them to go as hard as they can go,” she said of Democrats in Washington. “We need to end the filibuster.”

Brian Robinson, a GOP strategist who served as a spokesman for former Gov. Nathan Deal, said Mr. Biden has to be careful in how he approaches issues like voting. “A left-wing presidency that goes too far would give Republicans an opening in Georgia, even in terms of 2022, to get some of those voters back and to build into the minority gains that Republicans have seen in Georgia,” he said.

Write to Catherine Lucey at catherine.lucey@wsj.com and Tarini Parti at Tarini.Parti@wsj.com

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Source: WSJ – US News

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