Biden says he will wait to assign motive for Atlanta shootings

President Biden on Wednesday acknowledged concerns of Asian Americans following shootings at massage parlors in Atlanta but said he is waiting until the FBI completes its investigation to attribute a motive to the killer.

“The investigation is ongoing. And the question of motivation is still to be determined. But whatever the motivation here I know that Asian Americans are very concerned, because as you know, I have been speaking about the brutality against Asian Americans for the last couple months and I think it is very, very troublesome,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office. “I am making no connection at this moment on the motivation of the killer. I’m waiting for an answer as the investigation proceeds from the FBI and from the Justice Department.”

“I’ll have more to say when the investigation is completed,” Biden added.

The shootings Tuesday night at three massage parlors killed eight people, including six Asian women, fueling claims that they were racially motivated amid evidence of an increase in attacks against Asian Americans in recent months.

Police said Wednesday that it was too early to determine whether the shootings were racially motivated and said that the gunman, who had confessed, said that he targeted the massage parlors because of a “sexual addiction.”

Biden was first briefed on the shootings overnight Tuesday while in Delaware and Wednesday morning received an additional phone briefing from Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

His remarks Wednesday afternoon, made to reporters ahead of a meeting with Ireland’s prime minister to mark St. Patrick’s Day, represented his first public comments on the shootings.

The violence has been met with broad concern and outrage in Washington.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at a briefing later Wednesday that Biden did not want to get ahead of the investigation but noted that he has condemned attacks against Asian Americans before Tuesday’s shootings.

“He wanted to be very clear because there is an ongoing FBI enforcement investigation and he didn’t want to attribute motive, there are law enforcement authorities who do that,” Psaki said.  “That was a bar he was working to respect there.” 

Other Biden administration officials have offered prayers for the victims of the shootings. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said during congressional testimony that officials are tracking the incident “very carefully” and that the FBI is working “to understand all of the facts.”

Vice President Harris, who is of South Asian descent, also expressed solidarity with the Asian American community in remarks earlier Wednesday.

“Knowing the increasing level of hate crime against our Asian American brothers and sisters, we also want to speak out in solidarity with them and acknowledge that none of us should ever be silent in the face of any form of hate,” Harris said during her meeting with Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

“We’re not yet clear about the motive,” she added. “But I do want to say to our Asian American community that we stand with you and understand how this has frightened and shocked and outraged all people.”

Biden in prime-time remarks last week on the coronavirus pandemic condemned violence against Asian Americans and said the attacks must stop. 

Biden also signed an executive action in January to combat racism against Asian Americans that triggered actions by the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services. Psaki said that White House officials Cedric Richmond and Susan Rice are doing listening sessions in order to address the issue.

Psaki attributed the increase in attacks against Asian Americans in part to the rhetoric of former President Trump, who referred to the coronavirus by names like the “China virus.” 

“I think there is no question that some of the damaging rhetoric that we saw during the prior administration, calling COVID the ‘Wuhan virus’ or other things, led to perceptions of the Asian American community that are inaccurate, unfair, have … elevated threats against Asian Americans,” Psaki said. 

—Updated at 3:50 p.m.

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas anti-Asian hate crimes anti-Asian prejudice Cedric Richmond Christopher Wray Donald Trump Jen Psaki Joe Biden Mass shootings Merrick Garland Susan Rice

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