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Pressure Builds on GOP Leaders To Condemn White Supremacists

By Sam Fulwood III and Judy Lin

For nearly two months, Republican congressional leaders have downplayed calls for condemnation of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white-supremacist group that espouses anti-black views on its Internet Web site.

Despite their silence on the issue, GOP leaders -- including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) who has spoken repeatedly at council conventions -- can’t make the issue disappear quietly.

Thursday, the political temperature rose under GOP leaders as two moderate Republican leaders stepped out front of an emerging coalition of liberal Democrats, civil rights groups and GOP activists to demand that Congress pass a resolution that “condemns the racism and bigotry espoused by the Council of Conservative Citizens.”

The effort is the latest development of a controversy that began late last year, after published reports drew links between Lott and the group. Lott’s refusal to join critics in their denunciations heightened calls for congressional rebuke of the council.

Backers of the legislation said during a news conference at the Capitol they have the votes to pass the resolution, counting nine GOP House members among the 138 co-signers. But top House leaders have so far refused to bring it to the floor. In the Senate, Lott has declared his opposition to pushing the measure and no one has stepped forward to introduce a corresponding resolution.

“We are not going to go away,” said Rep. Michael Forbes (R-N.Y.) who stood with Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan as the only Republican lawmakers at the news conference. “I think the pressure is mounting on all members of Congress, especially the leadership in both houses, because so many members are concerned ... about this group.”

Council officials mingled with reporters at the news conference and some council members came to the organization’s defense. “Congress can ignore Bill Clinton’s perjury and obstruction of justice, but it has time to condemn an innocent group of law-abiding, hard-working conservative Americans,” Gordon L. Baum, the council’s chief executive, said in a statement. “It is grotesquely inappropriate for Congress to condemn an entire organization for its political views.”

The House resolution, introduced last month by Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) is modeled after a 1994 resolution that condemned a speech by former Nation of Islam activist Khalid Abdul Muhammad for “outrageous hatemongering.” That resolution sped through both houses of Congress in 20 days, while recent legislation citing the council has lingered without action for nearly two months.

John Czwartacki, a spokesman for Lott, said the Mississippi senator “would be inclined to support legislation opposed to all forms of racism and bigotry,” but has no plans to introduce any legislation on the issue. Offering what some GOP leaders hope will be an alternative, Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. (R-Okla.) the only black Republican in Congress, introduced a bill Thursday to condemn all groups that promote racial hate or intolerance.

Watts’ legislation, however, drew immediate criticism for being, in the words of one Hill staffer, “a transparent, watered-down version offered by befuddled Republicans who don’t know what to do when the subject of racism emerges.”