Resolution Condemning Bigotry Divides House

By JIM ABRAMS, Associated Press Writer (March 23, 1999)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A simply worded Republican resolution denouncing bigotry of all kinds turned into a nasty exchange on the House floor and ended in defeat Tuesday.

"This bill is a ruse that is totally characteristic of Republicans who want civil rights on the cheap," thundered Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.

"When I have had racist attacks made about me," retorted Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, the only black Republican in Congress and the author of the resolution, "no one ran to the floor to condemn that."

The resolution was brought up under special rules requiring a two-thirds vote for passage. It failed to reach that, with 254 in favor, most of them Republicans, 152 opposed and 24 voting "present."

It stated that the House "reaffirms the determination of all its members to oppose any individuals or organizations which seek to divide Americans on the grounds of race, religion or ethnic prejudice."

The Republican leadership, over Democratic objections, crafted the measure as a substitute to a Democratic resolution that would have condemned a particular group, the St. Louis-based Council of Conservative Citizens, accused by critics of having a racist agenda.

The CCC gained national attention after it was revealed that Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., had addressed the group.

Barr said he condemned the teachings of the CCC and accused the Democrats of hypocrisy for not criticizing a fellow Democrat for addressing the same group. He alleged that Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., spoke to the group.

However, a CCC spokesman denied that, as did Democratic lawmakers.

Watts said there were 537 hate groups recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center and his resolution encompasses all of them.

"To be so particular would be to commit a crime of omission by giving a pass to other groups that espouse prejudiced racist views, in effect saying that their bigotry is not so offensive as to be worthy of our condemnation," Watts said.

But Rep. Bob Wexler, D-Fla., who sponsored the measure condemning the CCC, said the GOP proposal was "nothing but a sham." It "confronts nothing," he said. "It is designed only to derail our resolution and if successful hand the CCC an unconscionable victory."

CCC Chief Executive Officer Gordon Baum, in a statement last week on the Wexler bill, denied that the group supports white supremacy and anti-Semitism, and called the resolution "the product of left-wing partisans who seek to silence all conservative expression."