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Senate passes bill to make lynching a federal crime

The Senate on Thursday cleared legislation to make lynching a federal crime.  

The bill, introduced by Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisFive House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet GOP senator: No indication of widespread voting irregularities, window for Trump challenges is 'closing' Biden pledges to work with mayors MORE (D-Calif.), Cory BookerCory BookerSenate Democrats reelect Schumer as leader by acclamation  Hill associations push for more diversity in lawmakers' staffs Sanders celebrates Biden-Harris victory: 'Thank God democracy won out' MORE (D-N.J.) and Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottDemocrats lead in diversity in new Congress despite GOP gains The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Capital One - Pfizer unveils detailed analysis of COVID-19 vaccine & next steps GOP senators congratulate Harris on Senate floor MORE (R-S.C.), makes lynching punishable as a hate crime.

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The bill previously passed the Senate in December, but it did not clear the then-GOP controlled House before the end of the 115th Congress. It passed on Thursday by a voice vote.

Booker said that "lynching is not a relic of the past," pointing to the attack on "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett in Chicago.

"Justice for the victims of lynching has been too long denied, and as we look forward we must collectively in this body make a strong, unequivocal statement," he added. 

Harris, speaking from the Senate floor, added that lynching is a part of the country's "uncomfortable history" that had never been "truly acknowledged" or "reconciled" with. 

"We must confront hate in our country. ... We are now making clear there will be serious, swift and severe consequences," said Harris, who along with Booker is running for the party's 2020 nomination for president. 

Congress has tried but failed to pass anti-lynching legislation roughly 200 times since 1918, according to Harris's office. In 2005, the Senate passed a resolution apologizing to lynching victims. 

But, addressing the 2005 vote, the Senate legislation says that while an apology "moves the United States toward reconciliation and may become central to a new understanding, on which improved racial relations can be forged," legislation criminalizing lynching is still "wholly necessary and appropriate."

The measure will now go to the House.