Blacks remain Clinton's strongest supporters Nearly half in House oppose early release of Starr reports

September 13, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Even as many Democrats on Capitol Hill distance themselves from President Clinton in the wake of the independent counsel's report, members of the Congressional Black Caucus have emerged as Clinton's most ardent defenders.

Nearly half of the 63 Democrats who voted against releasing the report by Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr were caucus members angry that Republicans rejected the White House's request to review the report before it was made public. Twenty-nine of the 35 caucus members who voted Friday opposed the measure.

Many caucus members say that while they disapprove of the president's behavior, they also view Clinton as a victim of the same judicial system that they say has historically treated minorities unfairly.

Several black Democrats in the House noted in interviews on Friday, for example, that when the House censured Speaker Newt Gingrich on ethics charges, he was allowed a week to review the report.

"The CBC understands more than others how this system can discriminate," said Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a leader of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

"As minorities, we're very sympathetic to someone who has not been treated fairly by the system," said Lewis, one of the first elected black officials to endorse Clinton in 1992.

Democratic Rep. Earl F. Hilliard of Alabama said, "We see this process as being unfair to the president, just as it's unfair to African-Americans and other minorities accused of crimes."

Public opinion polls consistently show that blacks approve of Clinton's job performance, trustworthiness and moral values in much larger numbers than whites. The most recent New York Times/CBS News Poll, conducted Aug. 19 and Aug. 20, found that 94 percent of black respondents approved of the job he was doing, compared with 60 percent of white people questioned.

Black voters have long been one of Clinton's most steadfast political bases, largely because of his favorable policies, including minority appointments to his Cabinet and judgeships, additional financing for civil rights enforcement, advocacy of an increase in the minimum wage and his initiative on race.

Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California, who heads the caucus and who had been silent on the president's troubles for the last several weeks, gave an impassioned defense of Clinton on Thursday at the House Rules Committee meeting to draw up the rules for release of the Starr report.

And on Friday, Waters again attacked the Republican-drafted procedures as unfair to Clinton, and proclaimed from the House floor that "the Congressional Black Caucus has made the decision to be the fairness cop" on this issue.

"This for the CBC is bigger than the so-called impeachment," Waters told reporters later. "We've been in this struggle for fairness for so long."

Many black leaders share President Clinton's spiritual beliefs, and may be more willing to forgive the sins for which he again apologized at a White House prayer breakfast Friday.

Pub Date: 9/13/98

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