SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY STATEMENT ON THE REMOVAL OF THE HATE CRIMES AMENDMENT TO THE DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION BILL
It's reprehensible that the GOP House leadership demanded the removal of the hate crimes provision from the Defense Authorization Act.
The provision had solid support in both the Senate and the House. Under the leadership of Senator Warner and Senator Gordon Smith, the Senate approved it as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill in July by the nearly 2-to-1 bipartisan majority of 65 to 33. Eighteen Republicans joined all the Democrats in approving this measure. Last week, by a vote of 213 to 186, the House instructed its conferees to support this provision in the conference report on the bill.
The hate crimes provision is an essential response to a serious problem which continues to plague the nation. Since the September 11th attacks, we've had a shameful increase in the number of hate crimes committed in our country against Arabs and Muslims - murders, beatings, arson, attacks on mosques, shootings, and other assaults. In 2001, anti-Muslim incidents
were the second highest-reported hate crimes based on religion - second only to anti-Jewish hate crimes.
Nevertheless, under current law, the Justice Department has to fight these vicious crimes with one hand tied behind its back. Outdated pre-9/11 restrictions limit federal jurisdiction in hate crimes based on religion. Hate crimes based on sexual orientation are not even covered by the law. How can House Republican leaders say they're fighting a war on terrorism, when they're not prepared to fight it here at home?
Clearly, President Bush is worried about his right-wing base in the coming election, and the implication is obvious that the White House sent word to its Republican allies in the House - block the hate crimes provision, even if blocking it denies the clear will of the majority.
The carefully selected White House candidate for the Senate in Florida used the hate crimes issue to smear his opponent in the Republican primary in August. Former Congressman Bill McCollum, a respected law-and-order Republican, was smeared as "anti-family" and "the new darling of the homosexual extremists" and lost the primary - because he supported the hate crimes legislation. There is nothing "anti-family" or divisive about the hate crimes bill. It protects all victims of hate-motivated violence: citizens of all races, all religions, all sexual orientations. No one is left out.
Sadly, the despicable smear against Congressman McCollum in Florida is only one example of the vicious campaign tactics used by Republicans this year. In West Virginia and Arkansas, the Republican National Committee has sent out flyers suggesting that "liberals" want to ban the Bible. My colleague Senator Robert Byrd aptly described it as a "desperation tactic" and "an insult to the intelligence of voters" in his state.
In Oklahoma, the National Republican Senate Campaign is running a race-baiting advertisement on television attacking Democratic Senate candidate Brad Carson's record on immigration by showing images of Hispanic farm workers and African Americans receiving welfare dollars. We've seen such campaign appeals to racism and bigotry before in this country. Most of us hoped we'd never see them again.
When President Bush condones outrageous tactics like these, how can he claim with a straight face that he's lived up to his campaign promise to be a uniter, not a divider?
The Administration is wrong to have ordered its allies in the House to block our bipartisan hate crimes provision. However, this is not the end of our battle. We will be back again and again, and we will continue to bring this legislation up every opportunity we can until it is signed into law. It's heartening to know that we may soon have a President who will sign it - a President who is honestly committed to uniting, not dividing, the country.