- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Democratic congressional leaders yesterday refused to directly repudiate the Rev. Jesse Jackson's call to "take to the streets" to delegitimize and discredit George W. Bush if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in his favor.

No leader spoke or issued a press release on the inflammatory statements by the black civil rights leader, who threatened a "civil rights explosion" if the court rules against Vice President Al Gore. He also compared the election dispute to the Dred Scott case, the 1857 high court ruling that said no black free or slave could claim U.S. citizenship.

Renit Schmelzer, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's spokeswoman, said her boss "has consistently said that we should not heighten the rhetoric and whoever is ultimately declared the winner of that election, the country should accept that and respect it.

"He has said that it is not appropriate for people to be attacking the Florida Supreme Court for its earlier decision and he does not think it appropriate to attack the U.S. Supreme Court," she said.

Asked if Mr. Daschle rejects Mr. Jackson's remarks, she replied, "I think what I said addressed Reverend Jackson's remarks."

Fred Clark, spokesman for House Democratic Whip David E. Bonior, said, "The political atmosphere is poisoned enough as it is. When the new president is chosen, we will need to work together to find common ground for the good of the country."

Asked to respond directly to Mr. Jackson's remarks, Mr. Clark said "I have no comment on that."

After the Supreme Court's ruling last night, Mr. Jackson said the decision "goes down in infamy with the Dred Scott decision both disenfranchised black voters."

While spokesmen for senior Democratic spokesmen sought to distance their party from Mr. Jackson's rhetoric, Republican leaders attacked the comments as inflammatory and divisive.

"I think it is irresponsible," Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., the House Republican Conference chairman, told The Washington Times. "I think that language in my opinion is too strong for the difficulty our nation finds itself in right now."

Said Michelle Davis, chief spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey: "Anyone in a position of leadership in this country will have to repudiate remarks like that. Leadership means Democrats who want to bring the country together will have to reject Jesse Jackson remarks."

House and Senate Democrats have been preaching the need for the country to come together once the presidential election is settled, but Miss Davis said, "You can't come together when one of their strongest sponsors is preaching division."

Appearing outside the U.S. Supreme Court Monday after the nine justices had heard oral arguments in the Florida election dispute, Mr. Jackson angrily attacked Mr. Bush suggesting that he was attempting to "steal" the election and blamed his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, for reputed efforts to block and intimidate blacks who showed up at the polls on Nov. 7.

"We will take to the streets right now, we will delegitimize Bush, discredit him, do whatever it takes, but never accept him," Mr. Jackson told reporters outside the high court where demonstrators for both Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore had gathered in support of their candidate.

He characterized the large number of disputed ballots filled out by black voters as "a bold attempt to take from people their franchise… . I can live under Bush winning, I can't live under Bush stealing," Mr. Jackson said.

As for charges by black voters that police stopped them at the voting places and asked for their driver's licenses and ID cards, Mr. Jackson blamed Jeb Bush for the incidents.

"It is under his watch, therefore, he is responsible," he said. "No doubt about it that Jeb Bush was a major factor in the Florida breakdown."

Mr. Jackson's remarks were tape-recorded by a reporter for Human Events, the conservative weekly newspaper. The full text of his comments was published yesterday in the Drudge Report Web site.

But the Bushes and the Republicans were not the only target of Mr. Jackson's anger. He also attacked the Clinton Justice Department, accusing them incorrectly of doing nothing to investigate charges that black voters were prevented from voting by police and polling officials.

"They have abdicated their job. They have a role to play, they were absent, when 80 percent of those in question were black voters, the Department of Justice took a hike. Mother Liberty was blindfolded today and closemouthed," he said.

Mr. Watts said yesterday that "When all these charges first hit, I did my own investigation in Florida and talked to people down there. You did have some people who were stopped, but the police officers were just doing their job."

In one instance, where "10 people were stopped, three were black and seven were white," he said, adding that officials had a responsibility to check and see if voters were voting in the wrong precinct.

"That has happened in other states, but it just didn't happen with black people. There were red, yellow, black and brown people who did that," he said.

"And most of the workers in these places where complaints were lodged were Democrats. They were not Republicans," he said.

Moreover, the Justice Department has an active inquiry under way to look into possible civil rights violations in the Florida election.

"We're continuing to review allegations that we received and determine if there is any basis for a federal investigation and we're still in the process of reviewing those allegations," said Kara Peterman, a Justice Department spokesman.

Last week, Attorney General Janet Reno said the Justice Department was reviewing complaints of suspected voter irregularities in Florida, and department officials confirmed that lawyers from the agency's Civil Rights Division were "on the ground" in Florida.

Miss Reno said the department was looking into the accusations brought by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and others to determine "whether there is a basis for federal jurisdiction." At the same time, she noted that while the review would continue, "the conduct of elections at all levels is primarily a matter of state law."

"What the Justice Department wants to do is to make sure that it looks at everything, that it take only action that is appropriate, and that we don't do anything that will interfere with the appropriate resolution of this matter in any way that would be described as partisan," she said.

In an interview with The Times yesterday, Mr. Jackson defended his use of the incendiary phrase "civil rights explosion" in his remarks at the court Tuesday arguing that nonviolent demonstrations are explosions.

"Gaining in 1965 the right to vote that was an explosion," he said.

And he made it clear he was not backing away from his charge that "there was a scheme, there was a plan" to disenfranchise black voters in Florida.

"It's too widespread and too targeted to be accidental," he said.

• Jerry Seper and John Drake contributed to this report.

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