"I still get asked, 'Where are you from?'" Senator Tammy Duckworth speaks out against recent spike in anti-Asian rhetoric and violence


Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois joins "Red and Blue" anchor Elaine Quijano to discuss the recent spike in violent attack against Asian Americans. She also weighs in on recent sexual harassment allegations against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and why she says President Biden's former nominee for budget director, Neera Tanden, faced discrimination during the confirmation process.

Video Transcript

ELAINE QUIJANO: The head of the FBI says the agency is concerned about a recent spike in hate crimes against Asian-Americans during the pandemic. At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, Director Christopher Wray was pressed to condemn anti-Asian rhetoric used by the Trump administration. He was asked whether he thought comments blaming China for the coronavirus were linked to a recent series of deadly and unprovoked attacks targeting Asian-American seniors. Here was his response.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY: Well, I don't know that it's really my place as FBI director to start weighing in on rhetoric. But I can assure you that that's not language I would ever use. And hate crimes against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders is something that we are concerned about, we take very seriously.

We are investigating where we have facts sufficient to do that. We're also engaged in a variety of forms of outreach to the public. I think we've done, you know, 60-plus training or liaison events with the Asian-American, Pacific Islander community since just March of last year. We've put out intelligence reports to our partners about hate crimes against that community in particular. And it's something we take very seriously.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Since the start of the pandemic, Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois has been calling for a coordinated federal response to address anti-Asian racism, and she joins me now. Senator Duckworth, welcome.

TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Thanks for having me on.

ELAINE QUIJANO: So Senator, before I ask you about the surge of anti-Asian incidents, I do also want to get your thoughts about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been accused of sexual harassment. Now, he apologized today, but said he will not resign. Do you think he needs to step down?

TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Well, I think the investigation needs to go forward. And if they find that there is cause that he-- then-- then we can talk about him stepping down. But I think first and foremost, we need to have an investigation go forward.

And the-- his accusers deserve their time to be heard. And that, for me, is the most important thing is to make sure that the alleged victims have their time to let us hear their experiences. You know, this is such a sensitive issue, and I want to make sure that we put the alleged victims' well-being first.

ELAINE QUIJANO: And you've said you felt that in the past you made a mistake in calling for former Minnesota Senator Al Franken to resign before an Ethics Committee investigation was finished. He was facing sexual harassment allegations. Do you think, Senator, that that experience has affected how you and other Democrats have responded to the accusations against Governor Cuomo?

TAMMY DUCKWORTH: I don't think it's changed how I-- you know, I called for the ethics investigation. And I do think that we should allow that process to move forward. I'm sort of returning to my military roots in that, you know, you-- you need to have an investigation.

We've been dealing with sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military. And one of the things I've heard, loud and clear, is to empower victims and make sure that victims have their chance to be heard and have their allegations seriously considered and explored. And that's what I think we should always start off with is to let the investigation move forward.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Well, let's turn to this recent surge of anti-Asian violence. First, what is your reaction to these incidents? And do you think, Senator, that the political will is there to get a piece of legislation like the NO HATE Act passed? This is legislation that would help fund improved hate crime reporting.

TAMMY DUCKWORTH: I think there is a will to pass the legislation. I will tell you that-- I wish I could say I was surprised, but I'm not surprised. Remember that a lot of the rise of Asian-- anti-Asian violence started because of efforts by the far-right media and also by then President Trump, you know, using terrible terms like "kung flu" virus and all of these other racist terms that did not help the situation.

And frankly, it's appalling that it's been allowed to go-- to become this bad. And I'm very, very grateful that President Biden has spoken out against anti-Asian violence. We, of course, have an Asian-American in the White House in the-- in Vice President Kamala Harris.

But we have a long way to go in this country. Asian-Americans are still viewed as an other. We are still viewed-- you know, I still get asked, where are you from, originally? I'm like, well, actually, my ancestors have been here since before the revolution. So let's talk about where you're from.

So-- so that is still pervasive. And we just simply, as a nation, can't afford that. We need our diversity. We need everyone to help us work and pull ourselves out of this situation we're in with our economy, to fight the COVID virus and regain our footing. And we can't afford to be fighting each other. And certainly we can't afford to condone any type of violence against any within our nation.

ELAINE QUIJANO: And what would you like to see from the Biden administration specifically on this point?

TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Well, I think they've done a good job already of lifting up Asian-American experiences and the concerns with violence. I hope that we see more prominent Asian-Americans nominated to prominent offices within the Biden administration. Remember that President Obama had three cabinet secretaries who were AAPI. I served under one of them, Secretary Eric Shinseki. But I think, you know, they're well on their way, and let's-- let's keep making sure that our government is as diverse as our people.

ELAINE QUIJANO: You mentioned nominees. The last time that you were on the program, Senator, you expressed disappointment that President Biden did not have a cabinet secretary of Asian or Pacific Islander descent. And on Tuesday, as you know, [AUDIO OUT] who identifies as Indian American, withdrew her nomination to head up the Office of Management and Budget. Now some Democrats have suggested that she was subject to a double standard as a woman of color. How do you see it, Senator? And do you think the Biden administration made a mistake by accepting her withdrawal?

TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Well, I think she was subject to discrimination as a woman of color. I don't think that-- you know, I feel like there was a real reaction to her. And the same Republican legislators who wanted to forgive acts by, you know, former Republican nominees seemed to then go after her for the very same type of tweets and the like.

I think we need to move forward. I think that-- I hope-- and I have asked the Biden administration that the next nominee that they put forward to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget be another Asian-American, hopefully an East Asian or Pacific Islander. And I've sent them some great names. There's some wonderful people out there, Asian-Americans, who could very well do this-- who could do this job very well.

ELAINE QUIJANO: I also want to ask you, Senator, about allegations that Russia offered bounties to the Taliban to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan. Now last year, as you know, former President Trump called these claims a hoax. In September, the head of US Central Command said the information was not corroborated. You are now calling for the Biden administration to release a declassified assessment of that intelligence. What prompted this, Senator? And have you had a response?

TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Well, it's just a continuation of the work that I've been doing. Remember that president-- then President Trump had numerous conversations with Vladimir Putin, and not once did he tell him that you will not employ this program of bounties against American troops anywhere they're serving. And I'm very, very pleased that President Biden in his first conversation as president with Vladimir Putin brought up this Russian bounty program.

And I'm just continuing to push forward. For the same ask I made of Donald Trump, I am making of Joe Biden. Let's see what the investigation is. I think that any time there's an allegation that there's a bounty on US troops' heads, we need to take it seriously, and we need to investigate it.

I don't care whether it's a Democrat or Republican. This is about American troops, and they deserve to have their commander-in-chief defend them and watch out for them, even as we Americans ask them to face harm in defense of us. So I'm just continuing with the work that I was doing under President Trump, and I'm making the same ask of President Biden.

ELAINE QUIJANO: I mean, depending on what the report says, though, Senator, given your background, how should the Biden administration respond?

TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Well, you know, there are any number of things they can do to-- not the least of which is-- are sanctions. But I want to see the report first, because I've not been able to see it so far.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Mm-hmm. In our final minute, Senator, you're also urging the Government Accountability Office to examine potential barriers that parents face in accessing child care if either they or their children have a disability. And I know this is an issue that is personal for you as well. What is it you're seeking exactly? And why?

TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Well, I want to know exactly what the concern-- we all during this COVID pandemic have seen how difficult it is for families to balance child care and work. I personally don't think that any family should be paying more than 30% of their income on child care. They should get some sort of help. And I do know that parents of children with disabilities, or the parents themselves if they have a disability, find it very difficult to access services.

So I want to see what the picture is so that we can figure out how to remedy the situation. So often persons with disabilities can't actually get a job, because they can't get the support that they need, so just for taking care of their own children. And then we have seen also during the COVID crisis when we have had so many students having to participate in remote learning that children with special needs have really been left behind under this system, because they usually get help in the schools, but now because they're home, the schools are not providing help for these children with special needs.

And the special needs could be everything from mobility and learning disabilities to a child that just needs a little extra time because they have ADHD or something like that. But I want to know what the true picture is so that we can truly address and solve the problem, because every American is important, every child is important. And I do feel that it's important that I am a voice for parents and children with disabilities in the United States Senate.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth. Senator, thank you very much for your time.

TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Thanks for having me on.


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