Biden said hate crimes against Asian Americans have skyrocketed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago, and the country cannot remain silent in the face of hate and violence.

Our silence is complicity. We must not be accomplices. We need to speak up. We must act, Biden said in a speech at Emory University in Atlanta.

He said Asian Americans are being attacked, blamed, scapegoated and harassed. They have been verbally abused, physically attacked and murdered.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Atlanta Friday to meet with Asian leaders in the wake of the deadly shooting. They had originally planned to travel to Atlanta to tout the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 economic aid package that Biden recently signed, but the White House canceled the planned meeting after the shooting.

The conversation we had today with leaders (Asian-American and Pacific Islander), and are hearing across the country, is that hate and violence often happen in secret. She often remains silent, Biden said. This has always been the case throughout our history, but it must change, because our silence is complicit.

Biden urged Congress to pass the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, which he said would speed up the federal government’s response to hate crimes that have increased during the pandemic, help state and local governments improve hate crime reporting, and make information about hate crimes more accessible to Asian Americans.

Biden and Harris have not explicitly stated that they consider this week’s shooting a hate crime. But they noted that, whatever the shooter’s motives, these killings come amid an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans in the United States.

Racism exists in America and always has. Xenophobia is real in America and always has been, including sexism, Harris said.

The Vice President said: Last year we had incredibly powerful scapegoats, Asian Americans – the people with the biggest pulpits – spreading such hate. At the end of the day, it’s about who we are as a nation. It’s about how we treat people with dignity and respect.

Very dark meeting with AAPI managers

At a meeting with leaders of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, sometimes abbreviated as AAPI, Biden reiterated Harris’ condemnation of the rhetoric of influential political leaders, according to one participant. Stephanie Cho, executive director of Asian Americans for Justice, said former President Donald Trump’s name came up several times during Biden’s hour-long meeting with the group.

Biden acknowledged Trump’s contribution to the growing hatred of Asian Americans, Cho told CNN’s Jeff Zeleny.

What Cho hopes to see from the government, she said: I’d like to see it continue. And just as the previous president talked about the China virus, scapegoated Asian Americans, and fueled racism against Asian Americans, I would like to see the Biden administration take an equally strong stance, but in favor of Asian Americans.

Biden said he would work to push back on that rhetoric.

He certainly said they were harmful, Cho said, when Trump’s statements came up during the meeting.

And it’s his position and his government to come back to all that, Cho said.

Cho described the meeting as very somber, but said Biden was trying to understand the problem and hear directly from AAPI leaders.

Biden has yet to call the shooting a hate crime, and Cho said she understands why he takes that position, though she disagrees with it.

Change to key status

Before meeting with AAPI leaders, Biden and Harris visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and received an update on the pandemic from health and medical experts.

This is war, and you are the troops on the front lines, Biden said at CDC headquarters. I came here to thank you.

The visit came as the Biden administration reached its goal of 100 million injections.

Georgia has become an important political state for Democrats. Biden narrowly won the presidential election there and the Democrats won two Senate seats earlier this year, giving the party control of the chamber and making Biden’s Covid-19 legislation possible.

Biden and Harris are meeting with these Democrats, the senators from Georgia. Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff appeared during the visit, along with White House Deputy Press Secretary Karin Jean-Pierre, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams.

Abrams has worked for years to broaden the electorate and increase turnout in Georgia, a typically red state. Biden is the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since 1992.

Georgia is ground zero in one of the country’s biggest voting battles. Georgia Republicans are trying to pass a new law to make it harder to vote – A new comprehensive election law unveiled Wednesday would give the state broad powers over local election officials, impose restrictions on early weekend voting and add identity requirements for absentee ballots.

CNN’s Ellie Malloy contributed to this story.

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