Voting rights, hate crimes on Senate's 'big, bold' agenda

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, holds a news conference, Thursday, March 25, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON – Wrapping up the most tumultuous Senate start in recent memory, new Majority Leader Chuck Schumer took stock Thursday of accomplishments including the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue while vowing action ahead on voting rights, hate crimes and mounting Democratic priorities hitting stiff opposition from Republicans.

Far from hiding the expansive role of government emerging from President Joe Biden and Democratic control of Congress, Schumer embraced it. Leading the evenly split Senate, he stopped short of backing filibuster rules changes to advance the agenda. Still, the Democratic leader said coronavirus pandemic has shown that Washington has a role to play in shoring up the nation’s health, economic security and tacking the other priorities.

“Just go out there and talk to the American people,” Schumer said at a press conference at the Capitol.

“COVID has shown so many of the problems in our society," he said. "So yes, I believe that America is ready for big, bold comprehensive change. That’s what Joe Biden has proposed. His proposals are very popular. That's some of the things we’ve done.”

Congress is about to pause for a two-week recess after a violent and emotionally wrenching start of the new year. The deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the impeachment trial of Donald Trump and ongoing pandemic restrictions have frayed relationships. Two elected GOP officials died of COVID-19, one before being sworn into office.

When senators return in April, they are poised for long and arduous debates over the agenda, and even the rules of the Senate.

Democrats are vowing action on several of their top priorities in April, including strengthening hate crime laws to include Asian Americans and restoring voting rights protections to combat minority voter suppression.

Schumer also said the Senate “must take action” on gun control legislation after two mass shootings this month, including one in Georgia that left six Asian American women dead.