Some CBC members wary of Hyde legislation

A House Republican bill aimed at eliminating genocide in Sudan has generated a lukewarm reaction from Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members, some of whom say they may vote against the bill because it does not go far enough.

The Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, which House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) introduced last year, has garnered bipartisan support from 154 co-sponsors, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the ranking member on Hyde's panel.

However, the bill has not gained the public support of a significant number of CBC members, in contrast to legislation on the issue introduced by Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.).

While 41 of the 43 CBC House members signed on as co-sponsors to the Payne bill, all within two months of its introduction in March of 2005, 15 of the 41 have yet to sign on to the Hyde legislation, including the CBC chairman, Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), and its vice chairwoman, Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.).

Payne, a CBC member who sits on the International Relations Committee, is a co-sponsor of Hyde's bill.

An International Relations Committee staffer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there are key differences between the Hyde and Payne bills, indicating that some members believe the Hyde bill may not be strong enough to have an impact.

The CBC has not yet taken an official position on the Hyde bill but has backed the Payne bill, according to a CBC aide.

The Hyde measure, which Hyde's committee approved by voice vote last week, would direct the president to block the assets, as well as restrict visas, of any individual involved in acts of genocide in Sudan. The president would have to notify members of Congress if he granted a waiver.

The bill also would authorize the administration to provide training, intelligence and material assistance to African Union forces in Darfur, direct the U.S. representative to the United Nations to call for a resolution applying sanctions against Sudan and continue previous restrictions implemented toward the Sudanese government.

I. Lanier Avant, a spokesman for Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), said that the congressman was undecided as to whether he would vote for the bill and that the Payne legislation provided "the best approach" to end the genocide. Reps. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.), Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) and John Lewis (D-Ga.), all of whom signed as co-sponsors for the Payne bill, are undecided on the Hyde bill, according to their offices.

Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), second vice chairwoman in the CBC, said that she supports the Hyde legislation, just as she did the Payne bill, saying, "We need as much involvement as soon as possible."

Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.), who co-sponsored the Hyde bill along with Kilpatrick, sad that further discussions would occur before the bill comes for a vote. Del. Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands), Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), while not co-sponsors, have indicated that they would support the bill, according to their spokespeople.

Several CBC members and staffers said that the caucus would defer to Payne, who chairs the CBC task force on Africa and is the ranking member of the International Relations subcommittee on Africa.  

Hyde's committee office did not respond to calls for comment.

The Sudanese government has been accused of waging genocide against Darfurian civilians since the outbreak of a military conflict with separatist rebels in 2003. The African Union sent a force of roughly 7,000 troops to protect the thousands of displaced Darfurian civilians. Casualty estimates have ranged from 180,000 to 400,000.

The genocide in Darfur has been a prominent issue for the CBC. In December, the caucus issued a statement asserting that the president and the international community have a "moral obligation … to protect innocent civilians and humanitarian operations throughout Darfur."

A significant reason for the difficulty in garnering CBC support relates to provisions that were in the Payne legislation but were left out of the Hyde bill to ensure its passage, according to the International Relations Committee staffer. Notably, the Payne bill would authorize the president to "use all necessary means, including use of the United States armed forces, to stop genocide in Darfur," impose a no-fly zone and employ unmanned aircraft to neutralize militia groups.

Avant, in explaining why Thompson was still undecided, said that the conflicts in Rwanda and Bosnia proved that authorization to use force is necessary to end instances of genocide, even while the president already has that capability.

Both Kilpatrick and Wynn, however, praised the Hyde legislation. Wynn asserted that the bill accomplishes a great deal, including keeping the Darfurian genocide on the legislative forefront and "providing a tactical, logistical approach" for U.S. efforts toward the region.

Another reason offered for the drop in public support is that Hyde's office did not reach out to CBC members to garner their endorsement, according to the committee staffer, adding that Hyde likely believed acquiring Payne's support alone would have secured CBC member endorsements.

CBC member Rep. Bobby Rush (D) said that Hyde, a fellow member of the Illinois delegation, did not reach out to him for co-sponsorship, which he found "quite remarkable."

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