- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2000

PHILADELPHIA Republican leaders Thursday night released a draft platform that sticks closely to the conservative positions on hotly debated issues such as abortion, gun control and homosexuals in the military, but takes a softer line on immigration.

The platform committee will begin work Friday on the draft, which was written by party staffers with advice from committee chairman Tommy G. Thompson, Wisconsin governor, and other panel leaders.

While the campaign of Gov. George W. Bush, the presumptive presidential nominee, did not write the draft, Mr. Thompson is a Bush loyalist and Mr. Bush made clear his desires for the platform both publicly and privately.

Despite pleas from pro-choice Republicans, the platform draft has identical language on abortion as the 1996 platform, saying an "unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed."

The platform calls for a constitutional amendment protecting human life and for federal judges "who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life."

"Same old same old," said Susan Cullman, co-chairman of the Republican Coalition for Choice. "We're not a bit surprised by this."

The only addition to the 1996 language was the comment that the recent Supreme Court decision striking down Nebraska's ban on partial-birth abortions "shocks the conscience of the nation."

The platform also preserves intact language reaffirming absolute support for the Second Amendment, although it adds that Mr. Bush as president would vigorously enforce existing laws.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have resisted President Clinton's efforts to pass new gun laws, saying he has not enforced existing laws and is using the issue merely for political advantage.

The defense portion of the platform also reaffirms that Republicans believe "homosexuality is incompatible with military service."

Some conservatives had worried that Mr. Bush might weaken that section since he said during the primaries that he accepted the Clinton administration's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

In one widely watched area, immigration and minority relations, the draft alters the 1996 platform.

The new draft supports bilingual education, so long as it is designed to promote fluency in English, and calls for widespread foreign-language education of U.S. citizens and "fostering of respect for other languages and cultures throughout our society."

The 1996 platform contained language supporting Proposition 187, which cut off public benefits in California to illegal immigrants, commending the Congress for that year's tough new immigration laws, and called for the "official recognition of English as the nation's common language."

Many Hispanics interpreted those statements as an attack on their culture and flocked to the Democrats in the 1996 election.

The draft platform for 2000 does not, however, call for open borders.

Although the draft 2000 platform keeps key elements of the 1996 platform, it differs markedly, with a more optimistic tone and few explicit attacks on Democrats.

The 1996 platform was pointed in its extensive criticism of President Clinton and painted a grim picture of economic and moral decay under Democratic rule. Some Republicans had complained that the tone was excessively petulant.

But the draft released last night is hardly the final word. Eight subcommittees will meet all day Friday to consider amendments to the platform and the full rules committee will meet Saturday.

The final word on the platform will come from the convention delegates themselves, who meet for the first time on Monday.

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