Dole Refuses to Sign Pledge Supporting Anti-Abortion Plank
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Facing taunts from supporters of presidential rival Phil Gramm, Bob Dole defended his anti-abortion credentials Friday but refused to sign a pledge supporting the Republican Party’s strict ``sanctity of life″ platform plank.
``Don’t look at pledges, look at the record,″ Dole told 4,100 religious conservative activists at the Christian Coalition’s annual ``Road to Victory″ conference, some of whom interrupted Dole’s speech by chanting ``Sign the pledge.″
Gramm, a Texas senator, set the stage for the confrontation a few hours earlier, waving his copy of a pledge distributed by the Republican National Coalition for Life and urging the religious conservatives to ask Dole why he has refused to sign.
``There is a divine spark in every human life and I will fight for that life,″ Gramm said to applause.
Dole, in turn, said the crises facing America’s families and children would not be resolved until government recognized ``the sanctity of all human life.″
Privately, several aides said Dole was considering signing the pledge in time for Friday’s speech, but dropped the idea after Gramm’s ploy.
``I am annoyed at Phil Gramm for doing that,″ said Sandy Tiller, the Coalition for Life’s political director, complaining that Gramm’s theatrics had complicated efforts to get Dole on board. Gramm himself signed the pledge several months ago at a time he was facing stiff criticism from social conservatives.
The episode reflected the intensity of the competition among most of the Republican White House hopefuls for the support of Christian conservative voters, particularly those active in the 1.7 million member Christian Coalition, the offshoot of religious broadcaster Pat Robertson’s 1988 presidential campaign.
``You’re going to have a big, big say about what happens in 1996,″ said Dole, the Senate majority leader and GOP presidential front-runner.
The jockeying was also fresh evidence of the rightward shift of abortion politics since the 1994 Republican victory.
Just after President Clinton’s 1992 victory, Gramm refused to voice unequivocal support for the abortion plank, and Dole would not commit to it in its entirety, either.
That hesitation extended even into the religious conservative community.
Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed and longtime anti-abortion activist Phyllis Schlafly were among those who said they were open to some moderation of the GOP platform, which calls for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion.
Now, both Reed and Schlafly are firmly behind the existing language.
Also, the Christian Coalition’s legislative agenda calls for an end to late-term abortions and ending all federal funding of abortions and of family planning groups that advocate abortion.
As they paraded before the religious conservative activists Friday, GOP congressional leaders credited them with ending the Democratic stranglehold on Congress _ and promised to support their social agenda.
``You sent a mandate for change that rattled this town,″ said Texas Rep. Tom DeLay, the House Republican whip.
But for all the praise, much of the Christian Coalition’s agenda faces an uncertain fate.
Beyond abortion, that agenda includes measures to protect voluntary prayer in schools and other public places, end public financing of the arts and humanities, eliminate the Education Department and enact a $500 per child tax credit.
So far, odds for the tax cut appear fairly good. New abortion restrictions are winning approval in the House, but face a tough future in the Senate. The Education Department appears certain to survive, and arts funding is uncertain. Both Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich support legislation guaranteeing voluntary prayer in schools, but a timetable for action is unclear.
It was perhaps that uncertainty that led several Christian conservative leaders, even as they reveled in their growing political clout, to warn against getting too cozy with the Republican majority.
``What we seek as a people cannot be measured by patronizing or posturing,″ Reed said in a morning speech to the conference. He vowed the organization would never become ``a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party″ and said:
``We do not bear the name of Ronald Reagan or Bob Dole or Newt Gingrich. We bear the name which is above every name.″
In his evening speech, Robertson was much less reluctant to draw a Republican tie. He cited reports that Christian conservatives control or are major powers in 31 state Republican parties and said: ``My goodness, that leaves a lot of work to do.″
Reed’s determination to put a little distance between the Christian Coalition and Republicans didn’t stop him from taking sharp aim at President Clinton, mocking Clinton’s recent speeches on issues of faith and family as coming not from the bully pulpit but from ``the pulpit of bull.″