- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2001

NEW ORLEANS — The Bush administration yesterday fired back at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, saying a Sunday address to the group's national convention here by chairman Julian Bond was "excessive."
A White House spokesman said "there was a certain sense of going too far" in Mr. Bond's remarks comparing some Bush appointees to an Islamic regime that has harbored known terrorists.
In a speech to more than 2,000 conventioneers at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on Sunday evening, Mr. Bond said that the president "has selected nominees from the Taliban wing of American politics, appeased the wretched appetites of the extreme right wing and chosen Cabinet officials whose devotion to the Confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection."
The Taliban is the Islamic revivalist movement that rules most of Afghanistan and has drawn international scorn for repressing women's rights and harboring accused terrorists, including militant Osama bin Laden.
"I think that in those remarks, talking about the 'Taliban wing' of the Republican party, talking about canines it's unfortunate, and it's another reminder of why everybody needs to work together to change the tone," said chief White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
But the NAACP's criticism of the administration continued yesterday during the keynote address by the group's president, Kweisi Mfume.
He attacked President Bush's judicial nominees, calling them "strange conservative-thinking individuals who want to set back the hands of time."
Mr. Mfume also challenged the administration's nominees in "us-them" terms: "We will not sit back while they try to stack the Supreme Court and appellate courts and federal courts. You can't do that. We won't let you."
Mr. Bush turned down an invitation to speak at this week's 92nd annual convention, instead sending a videotaped address that was played yesterday morning.
In the five-minute speech, Mr. Bush spoke with pride about his education plan, his black Cabinet appointments and his initiative to allow churches to deliver some government-funded services.
"There are other ways my agenda will help ensure that the American Dream touches every willing heart, from creating opportunities for affordable housing and health care to encouraging savings and reducing taxes on working people," he said.
"But throughout, my agenda is laced with some common themes: trusting the people, empowering communities and charities, and creating one nation of justice and equality."
More salvos were fired at the administration yesterday by Mary Frances Berry, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, during an NAACP luncheon.
Miss Berry told a crowd of 200 that Attorney General John Ashcroft, a Bush nominee, has refused to respond to her call for an investigation into the Florida election in November.
A report issued by the commission last month concluded that blacks and other minorities were deprived of their right to vote. Two of the panel's eight members issued a dissenting opinion.
"We have yet to hear from Mr. Ashcroft," Miss Berry told her audience, which included Mr. Mfume. "I had my assistant call to make sure he got my letter. But the attorney general won't meet with us."
She looked at Mr. Mfume. "Maybe he will meet with you."
Miss Berry said that when the commission was formed in 1957 at the behest of President Eisenhower, "It was the job of the commission to put the facts on top of the table. The Justice Department and the commission would be a one-two punch, that was the idea."
"Well, Ashcroft is supposed to be the number-two punch. At least, he should have the courtesy to do what Eisenhower thought he should do. And Eisenhower was a Republican, so this is not a partisan thing."
Miss Berry also told of her thrill when she found out that Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont quit the Republican party in May, giving Democrats control of the Senate.
"Before that, I was just wondering when Strom Thurmond was gonna die," she said, to laughter and applause.
Mr. Thurmond, a South Carolina Republican, is 98 and in ailing health. His demise would have given Democrats control of the Senate, which was split 50-50 before Mr. Jeffords bolted the GOP.
Miss Berry received a standing ovation when she concluded her 35-minute speech.
Because it is tax-exempt, the NAACP is not allowed to support political candidates. But because of its increasing hard line against Republicans and conservative policies, the group's tax status has been criticized by some Republicans.
Similarly, the civil rights commission was begun as a bipartisan panel with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. Detractors of the commission feel it has lost its meaning because it currently has one Republican, Abigail Thernstrom.
Miss Berry has stated her political affiliation as independent for reporting purposes on the commission.
She has contributed more than $25,000 to Democratic candidates, including Al Gore, over the years.
The NAACP's tax-exempt status was defended at an afternoon work session by Hilary Shelton, the group's Washington director.
"It means we cannot endorse political candidates or political parties, but we know who our friends are, don't we? You know what I mean," Mr. Shelton said to the applause of around 150 association members.
The discussion of legislative agenda items supported by the NAACP was led by a panel of three Democratic members of Congress: Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, and Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson and Sheila Jackson-Lee, both from Texas.
Mr. Dodd declared that "the NAACP's agenda is America's agenda. Every one of the agenda items is aimed at improving life in America."

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