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ISSUE 33 — FEBRUARY 5, 2022
By Mary Yang, Paul Kim, Andrew Peng, and Shawna Chen
BUY US A COFFEE
👋 Happy Lunar New Year and welcome to The Yappie’s first Asian American + Pacific Islander politics briefing in 2022! 🧧 Over the past few months, our volunteer team has been working on several big projects (more to come) while also dealing with collective burnout—but we’re excited to be back in your inbox and grateful for your continued readership. Support us by making a donation. send tips to editors@theyappie.com, and apply to join our growing team.
THE BIG STORY
🗣 DEEP DIVE—PACIFIC ISLANDERS PRESS WHITE HOUSE FOR TONGA AID: More than 160 organizations, led by Tongan Americans and advocacy group Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC), are calling on the Biden administration to bolster humanitarian aid to the Kingdom of Tonga, where a January volcano eruption triggered a devastating tsunami. Here’s what you need to know…
  • While donations have rolled in, shipping constraints and a backlogged global supply chain have made it difficult to deliver essential goods, cash, and clean water. USAID announced an additional $2.5 million in humanitarian assistance on Tuesday.
  • What they’re saying: In a letter to the White House, advocates urged President Joe Biden to release a statement acknowledging the tragedy and deploy more U.S. resources to assist with relief and recovery efforts. They also demanded “significant” climate action to address rising sea levels and land erosion that put villages at risk even before the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai volcano erupted, contaminated freshwater sources, and destroyed buildings, crops, and fisheries. “There is no question that such devastating impacts are a result of climate change,” the letter states.
THE BIDEN ERA
📡 ON OUR RADAR

“In the end, you’re treated like a spy. That just breaks your heart. It breaks your confidence,” Gang Chen, an MIT scientist who was accused last year of hiding ties to China but had his case dismissed in January, told The New York Times. 

The charges against Chen were part of the Department of Justice’s three-year long China Initiative, which aims to crack down on espionage linked to the Chinese government. The Trump-era program has come under fire from Asian American advocacy groups for alleged racial profiling, reports Axios Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian.

🏛️ UPDATE—HARRIS SWEARS IN AANHPI COMMISSIONERS: More than two dozen seasoned activists and public figures tapped to serve on Biden’s advisory commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders were formally sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris and Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Xavier Becerra on Thursday.
  • Catch up: The 25-member panel, which was first established by President Bill Clinton in 1999 and is now housed within HHS, includes health experts and a former Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus chair, notes The Yappie’s Andrew Peng and Mary Yang.
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YEAR ONE—DID BIDEN UPHOLD HIS PROMISES TO LGBTQ+ AMERICANS? The 19th's Kate Sosin investigates after a record year of violence and discrimination against the community.
  • Don’t forget: LGBTQ AAPI youth report rates of depressed mood and suicidality at higher rates than straight and cisgender AAPI youth, according to The Trevor Project. Meanwhile, AAPI trans and nonbinary youth are three times more likely to attempt suicide compared to cis LGBTQ AAPI youth.

✍️ ACTIVISTS ASK U.S. TO ADDRESS HARM FROM MUSLIM, AFRICAN BANS: In an open letter with 106 cosignatories, the National Iranian American Council and the No Muslim Ban Ever campaign called on the Biden administration to provide relief to those impacted by the Trump administration’s Muslim and African bans, which barred U.S. entry for foreign nationals from several Muslim-majority countries. The groups are seeking automatic reconsideration of visa applications denied under the policies and the expedition of visas not yet granted, among other requests.

SCOTUS READIES BLOCKBUSTER CLASH ON AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: With the Supreme Court agreeing to hear cases against Harvard and the University of North Carolina, the politically explosive debate over race-conscious admissions processes is set to reach a fever pitch this year.
  • Context: A high court hearing has been years in the making. Millions held their breaths as a 2014 lawsuit against Harvard played out in Massachusetts—two lower courts eventually sided with Harvard. In the UNC case, a federal district court backed the university in an October 2021 ruling, determining that it did not discriminate against Asian applicants in admissions.
  • But supporters fear affirmative action could be overturned in a less friendly Supreme Court, whose conservative wing has grown since justices previously considered the issue in 2016. The last time the court heard similar arguments, it upheld precedent that race-conscious admissions policies are lawful in a 4-3 vote.
  • Encouraging caution: Some experts note that a majority of Asian Americans have consistently supported affirmative action and warn that framing race-conscious admissions as anti-Asian hate is misleading. AAPI Data’s Janelle Wong told NBC News that doing so “intentionally confuses tragic attacks and anti-Asian violence with the essential path to educational opportunity for groups that have been and continue to face major barriers.”
ON THE HILL
📝 CAPAC'S NEW WARNING: The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus circulated guidance last week urging colleagues to avoid language that could “endanger Asian Americans,” reports AxiosShawna Chen. The letter comes as Congress debates a massive bill to boost the U.S. economy in an effort to compete with China. 
  • The details: Pointing to a “historic spike in anti-Asian violence,” AAPI lawmakers urged members of Congress to use “specific criticisms” of the Chinese Communist Party to “avoid spreading vague fears which have been proven to lead to bigoted violence and loss of life in the past.”
UPDATE—LAWMAKERS ADVANCE WONG NOMINATION: The Senate voted 64-30 Wednesday to end debate on Asian Development Bank nominee Chantale Wong, setting the stage for a final floor vote. If confirmed, Wong would be the first LGBTQ+ woman of color and first gay woman to hold the rank of ambassador.

⚖️ REPUBLICANS GRILL KATO: A Japanese American judge nominated to a federal court in California became the latest Biden judicial pick to face intense questioning from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s GOP members on Tuesday. Republicans zeroed in on a 1995 book review that Kenly Kato authored as a law student, which said neoconservative Asian Americans “internalize the dialogue of oppressors.” Kato is supported by the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association and the Japanese American Citizens League.

ICYMI—MENG EYES FEDERAL HOLIDAY FOR LUNAR NEW YEAR: Rep. Grace Meng (D-New York) introduced a two-page bill on Monday that would make Lunar New Year the 12th federally recognized holiday. The measure, which has 44 cosponsors and comes less than a year after Congress passed legislation recognizing Juneteenth, “would demonstrate that the holiday celebrated by millions is also valued by their government,” Meng said in a statement.

2022 WATCH
🗳️ REPORT—KAHELE WEIGHING RUN FOR HAWAI‘I GOVERNOR: Rep. Kai Kahele (D) could be gearing up to run for governor, several sources tell the Honolulu Civil Beat’s Kevin Dayton. The first-term congressman, who replaced Tulsi Gabbard (D) in 2020, would join Hawai‘i’s former First Lady Vicky Cayetano in a crowded Democratic primary.
  • Remember: In December, Kahele urged swift action to clean up contaminated water at Red Hill, a fuel storage facility operated by the U.S. Navy. Though regulators have developed a decontamination plan that will involve pumping water from the well and treating it, many Native Hawaiians are calling for the Navy to dismantle its operations completely, according to Hawaii News Now. Current Gov. David Ige (D) has said he will not close the facility. 
  • Yes, but: Losing Kahele, the second Native Hawaiian elected to Congress and one of the most visible proponents of NHPI data disaggregation on Capitol Hill, would deal a blow to AAPI lawmakers.
💸 TRACKER—WHO HAS PAC BACKING? 2021 was an unusually busy year for AAPI political action committees, but even more vigorous efforts are now underway to prepare for this year’s pricy midterm elections, The Yappie’s Andrew Peng notes.
  • The money: The progressive PAC CAPA21 recently revealed that it had already raised $200,000 to bolster congressional candidates after “channeling” more than $150,000 into Georgia last year. The AAPI Victory Fund announced in June that it was prepared to spend millions of dollars to mobilize voters in Texas across multiple cycles.
  • The candidates: Multiple groups have their sights on California, where nearly a third of Asian Americans reside. ASPIRE PAC, the political arm of Congress’ AAPI caucus, and the Asian American Action Fund have already thrown their support behind Jay Chen (D), who is facing incumbent Rep. Michelle Steel (R-California). PACs who praised Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) for appointing Rob Bonta as the state’s attorney general will likely put money into the Filipino American’s 2022 race as well.
  • Psst… Do you know of any conservative AAPI PACs and what they’re up to? Drop a note to editors@theyappie.com.
🔥 KIM FACES CHALLENGER IN REDRAWN SOCAL DISTRICT: Democrat Asif Mahmood will take on incumbent Rep. Young Kim (R-California) in the state’s newly redrawn 40th district, The Hill reports. A Pakistani doctor who ran for California insurance commissioner in 2018, Mahmood has gained several endorsements from top Democrats.
  • Why now? Mahmood, 60, has attacked Kim’s anti-abortion rights stance and opposition to bans on offshore drilling. He is also promising more affordable health care, citing his personal practice of waiving payment for patients without insurance, The Orange County Register’s Brooke Staggs writes.
  • Where’s the money? Kim raised $1.2 million in the last quarter of 2021 and holds nearly $2.6 million in the bank for her reelection bid. Mahmood has just over $25,000 from his last political race in 2018.
  • Note: Biden would have won the district by two percentage points in the 2020 presidential election, according to the Sacramento Bee’s Gillian Brassil, but multiple election trackers predict the district will go red in 2022.
👀 ONE RACE TO WATCH—Democrat Mike Fong will face off against Republican Burton Brink in a Feb. 15 California Assembly special election primary for the 49th district—one of the state’s two majority Asian Assembly districts, Pasadena Star-NewsRobert Morales writes. The seat was left vacant after Newsom appointed then-Assemblymember Ed Chau to the Los Angeles County Superior Court in November. Brink, who is white, lost to Chau in 2018 and 2020.

SF RECALL TIMING DIVIDES ASIAN ACTIVISTS, OFFICIALS: Top Asian American public officials are at odds with Chinese American activists over whether to recall three San Francisco school board members including Alison Collins, who used a racial slur to refer to Asians in a 2016 Twitter thread, according to The San Francisco Standard’s Han Li and KQED’s Scott Shafer. While city Supervisors Gordon Mar and Connie Chan have called for Collins to resign, they oppose “use of the recall process when we have these three school board members up for reelection just later this year.”

AAPI NATION
📝 NUMBER OF THE WEEK

350,000

That’s the approximate number of immigration applications stuck in closed federal records centers in Kansas City, leaving thousands in bureaucratic limbo, per The Wall Street Journal’s Michelle Hackman. 9.1 million green card applicants are waiting on a yearslong backlog.

Here's what else is happening across America..
  • The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ Senate is gearing up for the impeachment trial of CNMI Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, who faces allegations of “felony, neglect of duty, and corruption,” The Guam Daily Post’s Haidee Eugenio Gilbert reports. In January, Torres became the second governor of a U.S. territory to be impeached.
  • But… The discussion around selective public schools in New York and across the country is more complicated. “We’re really trying to have this nuanced conversation about race and class and opportunity,” Brooklyn Tech alum Hasiba Haq told The New York Times' Michael Powell. “We haven’t found the words for it yet.” 
  • Finally… Pita Taufatofua, the athlete who gained notoriety as Tonga's flag bearer, decided not to try to qualify for the Beijing Winter Olympics this year, and is instead focusing on his homeland's recovery after last month's disaster, Shawna Chen writes for Axios.
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