WASHINGTON - The Democrat-led Senate voted yesterday to let federal law enforcement help states prosecute attacks on homosexuals, attaching the provision to a massive spending bill for the Iraq war and daring President Bush to veto the whole package.
The White House wasn't commenting on the prospects for a veto of the underlying defense authorization bill. But some Republicans warned that's just what would happen after the Senate voted by voice to accept the hate crimes amendment.
"The president is not going to agree to this social legislation on the defense authorization bill," said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. "This bill will get vetoed."
Still, the hate crimes provision attracted significant support from the president's party. Nine Republicans were among the 60 senators who voted to halt any filibusters and bring the matter to the final voice vote.
The White House stopped short of reiterating Bush's veto threat, issued earlier this year when the House passed the same hate crimes provision as a stand-alone bill.
Without commenting on the prospects for a veto, presidential spokeswoman Dana Perino made clear that Bush believes the federal provision is unnecessary, saying: "State and local law enforcement agencies are effectively using their laws to the full extent they can."
The bill is named for Matthew Shepard, a gay college freshman who died after he was beaten into a coma in 1998 in Laramie, Wyo.
The bill would extend the hate crimes category to include sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability and give federal authorities greater leeway to participate in hate crime investigations. It would approve $10 million over the next two years to help local law enforcement officials cover the cost of hate crime prosecutions. Federal investigators could step in if local authorities were unwilling or unable to act.
Democrats and the provision's Republican supporters said the bill would create a safeguard in states that do not have laws against hate crimes committed based on sexual orientation or gender identity. And they insisted that the provision is relevant to the underlying military spending legislation because both are strikes against terrorist behavior.
Republicans were careful not to attack the intent of the legislation, focusing instead on what they said was the non-germane nature of the amendment to the overall spending bill.