The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) is branching out to welcome House Republicans into a new bipartisan group, a shakeup that reflects the historic diversity of the newly elected GOP class.
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., chairs the group of Asian-American House members, which is currently made up exclusively of Democrats. But the election in November of California Republicans Michelle Steel and Young Kim prompted Chu to find a new way to work across the aisle.
“We are going to be starting a bipartisan API (Asian Pacific Islander) caucus,” Chu said Friday.
Steel and Kim, along with Democrat Marilyn Strickland of Washington, are the first female Korean American women to serve in Congress.
Chu said she gave the new Republicans a choice to join Democrats in the existing CAPAC or to form a new bipartisan caucus where they can work on issues of common concern, including the uptick in violence and bigotry against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It seems that the bipartisan API caucus may suit our purposes more because there are certain specific things that we want to work together on and it can lead to more productive conclusions and more productive kinds of relationships where we can support each other on these issues and get something done,” Chu said.
Steel and Kim both won in swing districts in California and are part of the most diverse class of GOP freshman in history. It includes women, veterans, Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, and first-generation immigrants.
The new additions to Congress have forced traditionally Democratic caucuses to examine their membership, including the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Chu previously said Republicans would be allowed to join the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, but her announcement Friday signifies they’ve gone down a different path with a new bipartisan group.
Chu’s comments came during a CAPAC news conference Friday on the rise of violence against Asian Americans during the pandemic. The House Democrats placed varying levels of blame on former President Trump for inciting the anti-Asian sentiment by using terms like “Kung flu” and the “China virus.”
“He gave people permission to be openly racist and openly bigoted and it manifests itself in violence,” Strickland said Friday of Trump’s words and actions.
Stop AAPI Hate, a group that has been tracking the uptick in incidents against Asian Americans, released a report this month that documented 2,808 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate between March 19, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2020. At least 126 of those accounts involved the elderly.
CAPAC representatives were joined by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus to denounce the incidents of hate and to call on the new Biden Administration Justice Department to meet with the Asian American community to combat hate crimes.
“For over a year our community has been fighting two viruses, not just the COVID-19 pandemic, but that of anti-Asian hatred and discrimination,” said Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., who authored a resolution that passed the House in September to denounce anti-Asian sentiment.
“We demand this xenophobia and violence end at once,” Meng added.
Steel, R-Calif., this week has been circulating her own resolution condemning hate crimes against the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. In a letter to her colleagues seeking support for her effort, she cites the recent fatal attack on an 84-year-old immigrant from Thailand, Vicha Ratanapakdee, in San Francisco.
“Stories like this are horrific and senseless,” Steel wrote to her colleagues this week. “Unfortunately, this is one of many instances where Asian-American and Pacific Islanders have been targeted. Congress must come together and speak out.”
So far, no Democrats have signed on to her resolution, Steel’s office said.