Washington The Democratic-led Senate on Thursday voted to let federal law enforcement help states prosecute attacks on gays, 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 Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "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. But presidential spokeswoman Dana Perino made clear that Bush believes the federal provision is unnecessary.
"State and local law enforcement agencies are effectively using their laws to the full extent they can," Perino said. She wouldn't comment on the prospects for a veto.
The provision has progressed to this point before. In the Republican-controlled Congress, the Senate in 2004 attached a similar measure to the same authorization bill, but it was stripped out during negotiations with the House.
This time, majority Democrats first passed the provision in the House. So the prospect of being stripped out during negotiations is less likely, leaving open the question of a presidential veto.
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.
Under current federal law, hate crimes apply to acts of violence against individuals on the basis of race, religion, color or national origin. Federal prosecutors have jurisdiction only if the victim is engaged in a specific federally protected activity such as voting.
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.