- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Senate‘s top priorities in the spring will be civil and voting rights, gun control, and economic recovery with a focus on climate change, Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer announced Thursday.

When senators return to Washington on April 12, their first piece of business will be a COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act to protect Asian Americans, he said.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mazie Hirono, Hawaii Democrat, would speed up Justice Department review of hate crimes and set up a reporting system in multiple languages. The bill was introduced during the last Congress and did not get any Republican co-sponsors.

After a gunman in Georgia shot up several Asian spa businesses, killing eight people, President Biden voiced his support for Ms. Hirono’s bill.

“It’s been a busy two months, but we are just getting started,” Mr. Schumer told reporters before the Senate‘s two-week recess.

The New York Democrat cheered his Democratic majority’s ability to confirm members of Mr. Biden’s Cabinet, pass the American Rescue Plan to give people relief during the coronavirus pandemic, and hold an impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump in the first few months of taking control of the upper chamber.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has begun working on civil and voting rights bills.

It already took up the Equality Act, which bans discrimination on the basis of gender identity, sex or sexual orientation. It’s also going to hold hearings for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requiring federal pre-review of some states’ election laws.

Democrats charge Republican legislatures are trying to suppress voters, so they have pushed a number of election bills including the For the People Act, a major overhaul to nationalize elections.

Republicans have not supported the For the People Act, and have charged it would invite “chaos” into state elections by automatically registering voters, allowing 10 days past Election Day to count mail-in ballots, and take authority away from state legislatures to draw district maps.

With a 50-50 party split in the Senate, Democrats might have a hard time passing their agenda without GOP support unless they eliminate the filibuster, a 60-vote threshold to pass bills.

Progressives have been pushing for Democrats to change the Senate rules, but moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have insisted they do not support the move.

Along with debating civil and voting rights, the Senate will also hold hearings aimed at forming an infrastructure package that will focus on climate change, Mr. Schumer announced. Democrats will be meeting with Mr. Biden to discuss how the bill will be funded and if taxes will need to be raised.

Like Mr. Biden, Senate Democrats are also eyeing gun control legislation after two mass shootings this month in Georgia and Colorado.

“We also must take action to deal with the epidemic of gun violence that has plagued this nation and gone unaddressed by the Senate for far too long,” Mr. Schumer said.

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