Asian American leaders eager to talk voting rights with Biden

Asian American leaders eager to talk voting rights with Biden
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President BidenJoe BidenHaiti prime minister warns inequality will cause migration to continue Pelosi: House must pass 3 major pieces of spending legislation this week Erdoğan says Turkey plans to buy another Russian defense system MORE will meet with leaders from the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community on Thursday, giving a White House audience to a group that ramped up its turnout in 2020 to help lift Biden to victory. 

Some AAPI leaders believe the meeting is overdue given the growing size of the demographic in the United States and its subsequent importance to the Democratic Party.

Attendees are expected to include roughly a dozen leaders from various outside groups, including Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC, Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote and the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans.

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Erika Moritsugu, who was appointed in April as the White House liaison for AAPI issues, is expected to attend for the administration, as will Vice President Harris.

The two sides will discuss economic investments in the AAPI community, the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting discrimination many Asian Americans have faced as a result, something Biden focused on during a trip to Atlanta following the killing of several Asian women in March.

But a major topic of interest to AAPI leaders will be voting rights. Asian Americans increased their voter turnout from 2016 to 2020 more than any other racial or ethnic group, and a majority voted for Biden. Asian American leaders are worried that new, more restrictive voting laws being passed in GOP-led states could erase those gains.

“The most onerous restrictions being pushed and passed in Arizona, Florida, Texas, they’re geared primarily to the most active citizens, and we were some of the most newly active citizens in this latest election. We believe a lot of these restrictions are targeted toward how we as Asians voted in such large numbers,” said Varun Nikore, executive director of the AAPI Victory Alliance.

“We have a lot to say on this topic,” Nikore added. “It was because of the AAPI community that Joe Biden and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisTwo 'View' hosts test positive for coronavirus ahead of Harris interview Rep. Karen Bass to run for mayor of Los Angeles: report Biden taps big bank skeptic to for top regulatory post MORE are in office today.”

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Exit polls showed Asian American voters went for Biden over former President TrumpDonald TrumpGraham says he hopes that Trump runs again Trump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Executive privilege fight poses hurdles for Trump MORE by a nearly 2 to 1 margin. According to data from TargetSmart, turnout among Asian Americans nearly doubled in Georgia from 2016 to 2020, while it rose from roughly 14,500 to about 23,000 in Arizona, two key swing states that helped Biden with the White House.

Asian American leaders and organizers also aided Democrats in Senate runoff elections in early January, which ultimately delivered control of the chamber when Sens. Jon OssoffJon OssoffProgressive poll finds support for solar energy tax credit legislation Stacey Abrams backs Senate Democrats' voting rights compromise Herschel Walker's entrance shakes up Georgia Senate race MORE and Raphael WarnockRaphael WarnockTrump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Trump stokes GOP tensions in Georgia The Memo: Trump's Arizona embarrassment sharpens questions for GOP MORE defeated their Republican opponents.

A large number of AAPI voters cast their ballots by mail or absentee in 2020, Nikore noted, two areas where GOP leaders have aimed to tighten up laws after Trump spread unproven claims that mail-in ballots were vulnerable to fraud.

“We think that any voting rights restrictions being passed are targeted toward that activity and our community,” Nikore said.

AAPI leaders who spoke to The Hill credited the administration with being communicative about infrastructure negotiations and economic investments from the American Rescue Plan tailored toward helping the Asian American community in particular.

But there have been tensions between the AAPI community and the White House in the early months of the administration. 

Biden’s lone Asian American nominee to lead a Cabinet level agency, Neera TandenNeera TandenCapito grills EPA nominee on '#ResistCapitalism' tweet Senate backlog of Biden nominees frustrates White House Harris hosts CEOs, executives at White House to discuss affordable childcare MORE, withdrew from consideration, making Biden the first president in several administrations not to have an Asian American Cabinet secretary. And some AAPI leaders have said they would like to see more Asian Americans nominated for ambassadorships in the Biden administration.

The issue of representation has previously caused frustration among Democratic lawmakers, particularly after the Atlanta shooting, which prompted Moritsugu’s appointment to a permanent role focused on the AAPI community.

White House officials frequently point to Vice President Harris’s Indian American background, as well as high-level officials like Deputy Labor Secretary Julie Su and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine TaiKatherine TaiHas the trade world gone nuts? The Trojan Horse of protectionism The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden increases vaccine requirement for federal workers MORE, as examples of high-level AAPI representation.

“We’re ... proud of the number of nominees from the AAPI community that we have put forward for a range of important jobs in the administration,” White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden does not plan to shield Trump docs in Jan. 6 probe The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Arizona recount to show Trump's loss by even wider margin Watch live: Psaki, Homeland Secretary Mayorkas hold press briefing MORE said Wednesday.

Ning Mosberger-Tang, a cofounder of the Chinese American Voter Alliance, noted Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders account for roughly 6 percent of the U.S. population but are underrepresented at the local, state and federal level.

“To change that, we need to increase the turnout, we need easier access to voting, and the For The People Act will help with that,” she said, referencing voting rights legislation passed by the House but facing a dead end in the Senate. “To have a truly representative multiracial leadership, we need to remove barriers to voting, instead of making it even harder for minorities to vote as some states are doing right now.”

Thursday’s meeting is Biden’s latest focused outreach on voting rights behind closed doors as advocates pressure him to ramp up his public efforts to pass legislation protecting access to the ballot. Biden met Tuesday with Latino leaders on the issue, and he hosted Black civil rights leaders at the White House last month.

“We can walk and chew gum at the same time. For me voting rights isn’t like chewing gum, it's like keeping your heart beating,” Tang said. “If you don’t have a functioning foundation of democracy then nothing else really matters over time.”