Edging closer to victory, President Clinton dispatched his chief of staff to Capitol Hill Thursday in a last-minute lobbying blitz for the $33.2 billion crime bill.
"It's a tight vote, but I'm confident that we can win it," White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta said as he entered a meeting of former House colleagues who have been lining up votes for the bill.The White House planned to keep an open telephone line to the Democratic cloakroom so Clinton could personally woo wavering law-mak-ers.
"The president will continue to make calls until the vote is secured," said White House spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers.
Rep. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, the Democrats' deputy whip, said, "It'll be a squeaker, but we'll win it. We're within five votes and we've got momentum."
As an example of the momentum, Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, who received generous campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association, did an about-face Thursday and announced he would vote to get the bill to the House floor, then vote for the bill itself.
"I can't kill a bill that has a lot of good things in it for my district," said Green, who received lobbying calls from Vice President Al Gore and Attorney General Janet Reno, among other administration officials.
The legislation would authorize billions of dollars to help put 100,000 more police on the street and more billions for prisons and crime prevention. It also would make more than 50 additional crimes subject to the death penalty, allow life sentences for some third-time felons and ban many assault-style firearms.
The Rules Committee worked until late Wednesday before voting on party lines, 6-4, to send the package designed by House and Senate conferees to the House floor for a vote.
Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's crime panel, cautioned against further delay on the measure, saying it could help the NRA and the Republican leadership muster more opposition.
"I'm both apprehensive and hopeful. I know the power of the NRA. I've been up against them before. But I'm hopeful that Congress will rise to the occasion and try to reduce a little bit of the cynicism that here in Washington we're busy fighting with each other and forgetting what's on the average person's mind," he said Thursday.
GOP leaders, meanwhile, put pressure on Republicans who had strayed from the party line.
The Republican National Committee on Wednesday distributed to all 38 GOP members who supported the assault-style weapons ban in May a copy of a resolution of condemnation from the Alaskan Republican Party.
Aside from criticism of their May votes, when the ban narrowly passed the House, 216-214, the resolution called for the RNC to "deny all Republican funding to any and all of those 38 congressmen should they seek re-election" and to "seek alternative real Republican candidates for the seats of those congressmen."