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Senate passes legislation supporting Hong Kong protesters

Senate passes legislation supporting Hong Kong protesters
© Greg Nash
The Senate easily passed legislation on Tuesday throwing support behind protesters in Hong Kong.

The bill, known as the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, passed by unanimous consent on Tuesday evening, capping off weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations amid growing tensions in Hong Kong.

"With the situation in Hong Kong nearing a breaking point, this legislation will hopefully be a shot in the arm for the millions who have been patiently waiting for the United States to once again serve as a beacon of light and solidarity in their push to defend their basic rights and autonomy," said Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Watchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump Kasie Hunt to host lead-in show for MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' MORE (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
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Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus Bipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning Trump's new interest in water resources — why now? MORE (R-Fla.) added that the bill would be an "important step in holding accountable those Chinese and Hong Kong government officials responsible for Hong Kong’s eroding autonomy and human rights violations."

The legislation would impose sanctions on individuals who commit human rights violations in Hong Kong and block them from entering the United States. It would also require the State Department to provide an annual report to lawmakers on whether Hong Kong remains "sufficiently autonomous" from China.
 
Passage of the legislation follows rising violence in Hong Kong, including reports over the weekend that police officials have threatened to use lethal ammunition if protesters do not leave the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University amid a standoff. The Associated Press reported on Monday that riot police had trapped hundreds of protesters on the campus.
 
It also comes as the Trump administration is currently trying to close a trade deal with China, creating a potential point of tension for the White House. The bill still needs to pass the House. 
 
But support for the protesters in Hong Kong earned broad bipartisan support in the Senate, with nearly a dozen senators speaking on the floor ahead of the bill's passage. 
 
“Today’s vote sends a clear message that the United States will continue to stand with the people of Hong Kong as they battle Beijing’s imperialism. The Chinese Communist Party’s quest for power across the region is a direct threat to America’s security and prosperity," said Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyMurkowski predicts Barrett won't overturn Roe v. Wade Infrastructure, energy investments urgently needed to create U.S. jobs Justice Department charges Google with illegally maintaining search monopoly MORE (R-Mo.). 
 
The Senate also passed legislation by consent on Tuesday, backed by Sens. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyElectric vehicles see state-level gains GOP clears key hurdle on Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, setting up Monday confirmation Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing MORE (D-Ore.) and John CornynJohn CornynTrump leads Biden in Texas by 4 points: poll President Trump: To know him is to 'No' him Dallas Morning News poll shows Biden leading Trump in Texas MORE (R-Texas), that would ban the United States from exporting certain munitions — including tear gas, pepper spray and handcuffs — to the Hong Kong police force.
 
"We believe in free speech, freedom to assemble, freedom to protest, not state-sponsored oppression and violence. It is time to ban the export of U.S.-made police equipment to Hong Kong that is being used to abuse their human rights," Merkley said. 
 
Cornyn added that the bill "ensures that the Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters are not subject to police brutality using products made in the United States."