Clinton says GOP is ducking gay-rights bill


Associated Press

WASHINGTON – President Clinton accused congressional Republicans today of ducking a gay-rights bill out of fear it might anger some of the party’s bedrock supporters.

“The Republican majority does not want a bill that explicitly provides hate crimes protections for gay Americans,” Clinton said at the White House. “I think they think it will split their base or something.”

Clinton is pushing an anti-hate-crimes bill that would define crimes against homosexuals in much the same way as racially motivated crime.

Clinton said the legislation is not complicated, and could be attached to any number of bills now moving through Congress.

“So if it doesn’t get on (some bill) it will require an effort of the leaders to keep it off,” Clinton said before leaving for a fund-raising trip to Texas that will include a speech to a gay audience. “In other words, minority rule, not majority rule in the Congress.”

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott angrily denounced Clinton’s remarks as “demogoguery at its worst.”

“Pitting one group against another in order to gain personal electoral advantage is bad even for President Clinton,” Lott spokesman John Czwartacki said, adding that it “is certainly not our inclination” to put the bill to a vote.

“We do not have an interest in telling the families of some crimes that their sons or daughters are less important in the eyes of the federal government than the victims of other crimes,” Czwartacki said.

Clinton’s plan would add crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender or disability to the list of offenses already covered under a 1968 federal law, and allow federal prosecutors to pursue a hate-crime case if local authorities refuse to press charges.

The legislation also provides assistance to local law enforcement agencies in investigating hate crimes.

Earlier this month, the House, in a nonbinding 232-192 vote, agreed to make hate-crimes legislation part of a defense appropriations bill. The Senate voted 57-42 in favor of the hate-crimes provisions in June.

“All the surveys show that over two-thirds of the American people believe that no one should be subject to crime because of who they are,” Clinton said. “I just hope and pray we can do it. If we can’t do it, what did that Senate vote mean? Was it just some stunt?”

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