Following Atlanta spa shootings, mission changes for Biden-Harris visit

The White House planned the visit Friday to Atlanta by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris as a celebration of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. But in the aftermath of the deadly spa shootings, the two will instead serve as consolers-in-chief to a grieving community.

Rather than headlining a political rally highlighting the sweeping aid measure, the president and vice president will meet with Asian American leaders to offer their support and condemn racist violence in the wake of the shooting deaths of eight people, six who were women of Asian descent, at spas in the metro area.

The two will also visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to receive an update from health and medical experts, and discuss state and federal legislation on elections with Stacey Abrams, the founder of the voting rights group Fair Fight.

Updates: Follow the news today of the Biden, Harris visit to Atlanta here

The change in plans underscores the rapid change in the purpose of the visit, which was initially planned to tout Biden’s signature legislative accomplishment so far, a far-reaching plan to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and bolster the economic recovery that couldn’t have passed without Democratic victories in Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoffs.

About our coverage

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is tracking the money coming into Georgia from the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package. Journalists from across the newsroom will document how the money is administered and spent, whether it accomplishes its goals and whether it creates any unintended consequences. It is part of our commitment to hold government accountable and show our readers how government action affects their lives. Our journalists work hard to be fair and will follow this complex story as it unfolds in the coming months and years.

Latest coverage of the $1.9 trillion stimulus

What the $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus means for U.S., Georgia

Instead, it will be a mournful meeting with state legislators and advocates from the Asian American and Pacific Islander community to hear their concerns about the surge of anti-Asian hate incidents in Georgia and across the nation since the pandemic.

“I plan to voice the concerns of the Asian American community in light of the recent killings and respectfully urge him to take strong action in response to help alleviate their fears,” said state Rep. Sam Park, who is set to be in the meeting with Biden.

The shootings on Tuesday targeted three Asian spas in metro Atlanta. Police have charged a 21-year-old Woodstock man with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault after authorities tracked his SUV to rural Georgia.

Though authorities said the suspect claimed the attacks were not motivated by racism, community leaders say it can’t be ignored that Asian Americans were targeted by the attacks.

And the assaults have only deepened fears about rising anti-Asian hatred in the U.S., as incidents of attacks have surged during the pandemic as former President Donald Trump and his allies called COVID-19 the “China virus” and other discriminatory names.

ExploreSpa shootings add urgency to congressional hearing on violence against Asian Americans

Harris, the first woman and first Asian American to serve as vice president, expressed condolences for the families of the victims on Wednesday as she outlined her deep concern about the increase in hate-fueled crimes targeting minorities.

“This speaks to a larger issue, which is the issue of violence in our country and what we must do to never tolerate it and to always speak out against it,” she said.

The White House said Biden and Harris will schedule a later visit to promote the coronavirus relief package, which narrowly passed the Democratic-controlled Congress earlier this month without a single GOP vote.

Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock campaigned on a promise to support the package, which includes $1,400 payments to many Americans, extends emergency unemployment benefits, increases tax credits for children and provides roughly $8 billion in direct aid for Georgia state and local governments.

ExploreAtlanta Korean community says spa shootings were racially motivated

Their upset victories in January’s U.S. Senate runoffs over incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue flipped control of the chamber and allowed Biden to pursue a far more robust relief package than he could have if Republicans had retained the majority.

“The people of Georgia stood up,” Warnock said during a recent stop in Atlanta, “and we are bringing a lot of aid to the state of Georgia.”

The measure faced stiff opposition from Republicans, who have alternately claimed it’s far too costly and doesn’t provide enough direct relief. Gov. Brian Kemp has seized on the latter claim, saying the formula baked into the plan’s calculus benefits larger states with struggling economies at Georgia’s expense.

“I appreciate the relief,” Kemp said during a visit to Savannah, “but I wish it was fair and equitable to our citizens.”


MORE DETAILS

President Joe Biden is ordering all flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of the eight people who were killed in Atlanta during a series of shootings at local spas.

Biden’s order, issued Thursday, comes one day ahead of his visit to Georgia, along with Vice President Kamala Harris.

Flags at all public buildings and grounds, military posts and naval stations will remain at half-staff until sunset on March 22, according to the order.