Clinton, Obama urge NAACP to press Bush on Voting Rights Act


WASHINGTON -- One day before President Bush addresses the NAACP for the first time during his presidency, two Democratic senators urged yesterday that those attending the meeting to hold the administration accountable for renewing - and enforcing - the Voting Rights Act.

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois warned NAACP delegates to be cautious of any civil rights promises Bush offers when speaking to the group today. The senators criticized Republicans for allowing the landmark 1965 voting act to nearly expire and said the Justice Department has failed to aggressively pursue allegations of disenfranchisement.

"Don't be bamboozled. Don't buy into it," Obama said, trying to anticipate Bush's speech, which is expected to touch upon his support for extending the act. "It's great if he commits to signing it, but what is critical is the follow-through. You don't just talk the talk, but you also walk the walk."

While Democrats have accused the GOP of being too slow to renew the Voting Rights Act, Republicans responded last week by passing the legislation in the House. The bill is pending in the Senate.

After declining invitations to speak before the NAACP for the past five years, the president suddenly agreed this week. White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush saw the speech as "a moment of opportunity" to emphasize his commitment to civil rights and heal any rifts that might exist between the GOP and black voters.

"He has an important role to play, not only in making the case for civil rights," Snow said, "but maybe more importantly, the case for unity."

For years, Republicans have sought to earn a greater share of the black vote. In 2004, Bush received 11 percent, but this year, the party has recruited African-American candidates to run for statewide office in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Jeff Zeleny writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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