(CNSNews.com) - President Bush should use his expected appearance before the NAACP on Thursday to sign the extension of the Voting Rights Act, according to New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton, who addressed the civil rights group herself on Wednesday.
Clinton told attendees at the NAACP's annual convention in Washington, D.C., that they deserve credit for the bill being passed in the House. (It appeared headed for passage in the Senate on Wednesday.)
"You did not blink, you did not waiver, you did not compromise and we were able to push through the reauthorization in the House," Clinton said in reference to the extension of the law that was first signed in 1965.
"When you have your surprise speaker," Clinton said of Bush, "he could sign it right here on this stage when he comes." Bush is expected to speak at the NAACP convention Thursday after passing up invitations for the first five years of his presidency. The president's boycott of the event is believed to be linked to the harsh criticism leveled at him by NAACP Chairman Julian Bond.
A White House spokesman did not return calls requesting comment Wednesday, but President Bush has voiced support for renewing the Voting Rights Act. In an April press conference, Bush said he wanted to "make sure the Voting Rights Act is strong and capable" and called it a "valuable part of democracy."
Clinton's suggestion that Bush sign the bill in front of NAACP members was met with cheers from the hundreds of conference attendees on Wednesday. Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama echoed Clinton's challenge, but warned NAACP members against being "bamboozled" by the president and told them not to "buy into the okie-doke."
"It's great if he commits to signing it and it'd be even better if he was signing it here on stage," Obama said, "but what is critical is follow-through, that you don't just talk the talk, but you also walk the walk."
Clinton also questioned the administration's commitment to enforcing the law, saying "we've got to make sure that the Justice Department has the authority, the expertise and the commitment to enforce the Voting Rights Act. We are halfway home but we're not in the Promised Land."
She said the best way to ensure enforcement of the Voting Rights Act would be to elect a Democratic Senate in November and a Democratic president in 2008. It is widely expected that Clinton will run for the Democratic presidential nomination in two years.
The Voting Rights Act was renewed in 1970, 1975 and 1982. It would expire in 2007 without an extension.
Opponents of reauthorizing the Act, like Georgia Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, say it is outdated and unfair to southern states. In a statement after its July 13 passage in the House, Westmoreland said the measure has "lingering prejudice toward southerners."
"I agree there are problems across the country -- which is why it defies common sense to treat a handful of states differently," Westmoreland wrote. "The House failed to prove that the 16 states subjected to federal 'preclearance' of electoral laws are substantively different than the states not covered by the Voting Rights Act."
The Act requires eights states -- Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and most of Virginia -- to obtain permission from the federal government before changing any electoral procedure, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The same extra oversight applies to some counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota and some towns in Michigan and New Hampshire.
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