Facebook Twitter



Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Wednesday that Republicans have all but given up hope for removing a ban on semiautomatic weapons from the crime bill.

Still, he said if President Clinton wants that bill or health-care reform, he must start seriously negotiating with Republicans - instead of ignoring or berating them - on key issues besides the ban."There's no way we can win on assault weapons unless we want to kill the bill. We could do that . . . but a vast majority of Republicans want a crime bill," Hatch told reporters at a National Press Club gathering.

Hatch - ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee and manager of GOP efforts on the crime bill - said Senate Republicans will likely push for at least one more vote on the gun ban so they can show voters they fought hard and voted against it. But, Hatch said, "we know we've lost" on that issue.

Clinton has blamed the National Rifle Association and Republicans for leading opposition to the bill because it bans 19 types of semiautomatic weapons.

But Hatch said "that is phony" because the Senate passed an earlier version of the crime bill - with only four votes in opposition - even though it had such a ban.

"It passed because there were so many other good things in it," he said, adding Republicans now think the bill has too much money for pork, social programs and provisions that they say are soft on crime.

The comments came as Republicans and Democrats in the Senate were at a tenuous stalemate over the crime bill. Republicans had 41 written pledges, or just enough, to support a procedural move that would dump the House-passed version of the bill and open up an earlier version to amendments. Most say such an uncontrolled opening up of the bill would kill it for the year.

Republicans said that could be avoided if Democratic leaders would allow them to vote on 10 or so specific, key amendments. But Democrats were initially hesitant to negotiate - hoping to somehow convert someone to their side to block the threatened procedural move.

Hatch said the major reason Clinton has had so much trouble with the crime bill and health-care reform is he "has come to Washington with the idea that he only has to work with the overwhelming majority his party has" and not with Republicans.

Hatch complained Democratic leaders often try to work out bills themselves and accuse Republicans of gridlock if they block or alter them.

"They are so used to having their way, they don't understand why Republicans just don't get out of their way," he said. "That's offensive to Republicans. We're not going to roll over and play dead just because they control both houses."

Hatch also said he feels health-care reform "is dead for the year" because of wide disagreements among all sides and little time to resolve them.

He said a smaller bill could still pass to reform health insurance and expand community health centers, which he said would greatly expand health coverage. But he said he doubts Democratic leaders could bring themselves to support that.

Hatch also said he believes current battles will help Republicans more than Democrats this election year.

"It would hurt President Clinton, but that's not the goal here. We want a crime bill" with provisions Republicans seek, Hatch said.