[Hpn] post Lott civil rights?
Tue, 31 Dec 2002 08:05:42 -0500
By David Firestone
New York Times
Sunday 29 December 2002
WASHINGTON -- As Bill Frist spoke last week of "healing the wounds
of division" caused by Trent Lott's racially divisive remarks,
several of his colleagues
said the doctor-senator should translate the medical metaphors he
loves into something more solid. Many Republicans of various stripes
say Mr. Frist should unveil a significant civil rights gesture next week,
after he takes over as majority leader.
"It's important that we show the African-American community and
other minorities that we are an inclusive, tolerant and diverse
party," said Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine. "We
have to show not just in words but in actions that we mean what
we say on that subject. Now the question is, how do
we best go about it?"
Ms. Snowe's question is likely to hang heavily over the 108th
Congress when it convenes on Jan. 7, because almost any item on
today's civil rights agendas has become starkly partisan in nature.
The issues championed today by traditional civil rights groups, from
affirmative action to ending racial profiling, have become virtually
identical to the Democratic Party platform, and many are
antithetical to the race-neutral goals of Republicans. The most
egregious forms of discrimination were essentially dealt with in the
sweeping legislation of the 1960's and 70's, supported by
mainstream members of both parties.
Senator George Allen, a Virginia Republican who was instrumental in
persuading Senator Lott to step down as majority leader, said the
incident had produced what he said was "a greater understanding."
But there is no reason to alter the party's policies, he said,
because they would help all Americans, including minorities. For
example, many Republicans have said that President Bush's
so-called faith-based initiative, which would allow a greater share
of federal funds to go to religious groups, is in essence
a civil rights issue, because some money would go to inner-city
churches, mainstays of many black communities.
But that measure is strongly opposed by groups like the Leadership
Conference on Civil Rights, which represents 180 of the best-known
traditional civil rights organizations, because it would remove a
provision that bars recipients of federal funds from practicing any
form of discrimination.
There are those on both sides of the aisle who argue that extending
unemployment benefits, which ran out for many people on Saturday, is
also a matter of civil rights, because so many minorities are
unemployed. A benefits extension is almost certain to pass next month,
now that President Bush and Congressional
Republicans have agreed to the idea.
"I would argue that unemployment benefits are a form of civil
rights," said Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Democratic delegate who
represents the District of Columbia in the House. "Because of the
great work of the 1960's, there are only a few clear-cut issues left,
like hate crimes and racial profiling. Now we're following the bread-
and-butter issues that we share with a broader array of Americans,
because issues like health insurance and unemployment affect
us so disproportionately."
Members of both parties say the only traditional civil rights
proposal with even a slim chance of gaining bipartisan support in
the coming session does not deal with race. Instead, the bill
would make it a federal crime to physically attack someone
because of his or her sexual orientation, sex or disability.
It came close to passing in 2000 but lacked enough Republican
support this year. (Mr. Frist and Mr. Lott opposed it.)
Traditional civil rights groups are pressing for more, even though
they are unlikely to get very far. Atop the list is essentially a
negative item: stopping the confirmation of several conservative
judges to the federal appeals court, including Judge Charles W.
Pickering Sr. He was unsuccessfully nominated
by the Bush administration this year and is likely to be brought up
Judicial nominations were a principal item in a letter sent to
President Bush earlier this month by the Leadership Conference. "We
are very concerned that many individuals who you have nominated to
serve on the federal bench have records of deep hostility to core civil
rights principles and to Congress's
historic role in protecting the civil rights of all Americans," said
the letter, signed by the group's leaders and sent on the day Mr.
Lott stepped down.
Several moderate Republican senators, like Ms. Snowe, have suggested
this area is one where the party could demonstrate its new
sensitivity, but several more conservative senators said last week
that Mr. Bush should nominate his previous candidates.
The Leadership Conference also plans to push for an amendment to
this year's transportation bill that would prohibit states from
engaging in racial profiling, the practice of stopping cars based on
the occupants' race. And it wants the Bush administration to support
the University of Michigan's law school affirmative action policy,
which will be the focus of an important Supreme Court
case this year.
Nancy Zirkin, the conference's public policy director, said that
civil rights groups will also seek adequate financing for the
recently passed election reform act, allowing states to improve
their voting procedures, and for additional money for President
Bush's education initiative, known as the "No Child
Left Behind" act.
Ms. Zirkin said she misses the days when Republicans and Democrats
could agree on a basic civil rights agenda, a consensus that seemed
to wither in the 1970's when they diverged sharply on affirmative action.
But she said Mr. Lott's fall has provided new energy to her constituent
groups, lending hope that the Republicans' search for sensitivity would
help produce some common ground.
"Of course I wish things weren't so lopsided," she said. "But maybe
members will step back a bit now, and not go back to business as
usual. There's a new awareness about these kinds of issues, and
maybe we'll have an easier time."
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