President Clinton vowed Friday to "fight and fight and fight" to resurrect his $33.2 billion crime bill, and senior lawmakers discussed changing a controversial assault-weapons ban to help squeeze the measure through the House.
Clinton flew to Minnesota Friday to address a police group as part of the White House's campaign to salvage the measure that was shelved Thursday by a coalition of Republicans, Democrats opposed to gun control and blacks upset over an expanded death penalty.In the House, Speaker Thomas Foley said lawmakers would return to the Capitol to vote anew on a crime bill, the No. 1 issue in polls. "We are going to put this bill over the top," he said.
At a breakfast meeting with reporters, Majority Leader Richard Gephardt was asked if the crime bill could be passed with the assault-weapons ban that sparked a furious campaign by the National Rifle Association.
"I think so, but probably not the same one," he replied.
Some Democrats also spoke of trimming some of the provisions that Republicans ridiculed as "pork" before sending the measure back to the floor. But they said they didn't expect to open bipartisan talks with Republicans on the measure.
One of the items criticized by Republicans was an authorization of $10 million to establish a criminal justice research and education center at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, represented by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jack Brooks. Key Democrats involved in crafting the bill said they were unaware it was there.
It came to light in a July 29 news release from the university touting it, and House GOP leaders cited it in an Aug. 5 memo as one of seven reasons for Republican members to oppose the rule. "Who knows what lurks deep in the fine print?" the memo asked.
Clinton's trip had a bipartisan aura, as mayors of both parties made the journey aboard Air Force One.
He criticized the lawmakers who had voted to keep the crime bill from reaching the floor. Those opposed "decided that their political security was more important than the personal security of the American people."
Poll after poll, he said, showed crime the top worry of the American people and "if we can't meet this concern there is something badly wrong in Washington."
Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York and Democratic Mayors Edward Rendell of Philadelphia and William Campbell of Atlanta were with Clinton at the White House. Giuliani and Rendell were accompanying him to Minneapolis to appear before a convention of the 200,000-member National Association of Police Organizations, which strongly supported the bill.
The 225-210 vote on Thursday blocked the crime bill from coming to the floor. A switch of eight votes would reverse the outcome and permit a vote on final passage.
Aides said Democratic leaders had met Thursday night with Senate Judiciary Committee Joseph Biden, D-Del., in hopes they could quickly regroup.
At a Democratic caucus Friday one lawmaker warned his colleagues that they risked losing majority control if they couldn't pass the measure. His remarks were met with applause, according to sources there.
For Republicans, the vote Thursday represented a rare chance to set back the Democrats on a highly charged issue. House GOP Whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia said the Republicans are prepared to go back to conference Friday.
"I think we should strengthen the bill and then I think we should bring it back to the floor," he said on CBS.