Clinton chides Republicans over hate crimes bill
DALLAS (Reuters) - President Clinton criticized the Republican leaders of Congress Wednesday, saying they were blocking a House of Representatives vote on legislation that would expand hate crimes protections to gays and other groups.
Speaking in the home state of Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush, Clinton told a group of gay and lesbian political donors that the issue was just one of many that distinguished Democrats from Republicans this election year.
"It's not just about gay rights," Clinton said. "It's about seniors' needs; it's about kids needs to go to decent schools. It's about what works to make our kids safe."
The legislation would extend federal hate crime protection -- which covers race, religion, and national origin -- to crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender or disability.
It would also give more tools to state and local officials to investigate and prosecute hate crimes.
It was approved by the Senate earlier this year 57-42 as an amendment to a defense spending measure. However, House Republican leaders so far have refused to bring the hate crimes bill to the floor for a direct vote.
On Sept. 13, however, the House expressed support for the bill on a nonbinding 232-192 vote, including the backing of 41 Republicans.
"If it doesn't get to be law, it's because the leadership doesn't want it; because we've got a majority of the votes for it," Clinton said at the start of a day that was expected to raise more than $1.5 million for the Democrats.
Clinton said there had been a "sea change" in the United States on the issue of expanding hate crimes protections.
"We've got the votes. It's just a question of whether the leadership of the Republican party in the Congress stays to the right of the country on this issue."
Earlier, he told reporters in Washington that the Republicans feared the bill would divide their political base.
"This is not complicated," Clinton said during a brief appearance in the White House Rose Garden. "The Republican majority does not want a bill that explicitly provides hate crimes protections for gay Americans, and I think they think it will split their base, or something."
In Dallas, Clinton also attacked the Republican plan for a broad tax cut, saying it would raise interests rates, and he faulted their stands on Medicare, education and the environment.
Clinton was expected to raise $250,000 at the Dallas luncheon of the Democratic National Committee's Gay/Lesbian Leadership Council.
Later, Clinton was to address a Houston fund-raising reception for the re-election campaign of Texas Democratic Rep. Max Sandlin. It was to raise $300,000.
Then at a DNC "Texas tribute" to Clinton in Houston, the party was to raise more than $1 million. The debate over hate crimes legislation has been an important one in Texas, where Bush is governor.
Supporters of the hate crimes bill pointed to 1998 murder of James Byrd, a black man tied to a truck and dragged to death in Texas, as an example of the need for such a bill. Opponents questioned whether the bill was necessary, arguing current law was adequate in most cases and an expansion would tread on state prerogatives.
Texas debated new hate crimes legislation in 1999 but it did not pass the Democratic-controlled House. Bush came under fire for not doing more to support it.
The Bush campaign said there is already a hate crimes law on the books that has been expanded under his governorship.
"We sent a strong signal in the state of Texas under Gov. Bush's leadership that we do not tolerate crimes of hate and he will bring the same types of qualities," Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett said in Austin.
On Clinton's visit to Texas, Bartlett said Clinton was "more than welcome to the state." However, he noted:
"The only time the Clinton-Gore administration comes to Texas is to raise money because the economy is doing so well under Gov. Bush's leadership."
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