For the third time this week, the Senate on Thursday turned back Democratic efforts to force a vote on legislation imposing economic sanctions on South Africa. Then Republican leaders made sure there will not be another vote for a while by stealing the bill off the Senate clerk’s desk and hiding it.
Under Senate rules, the original copy of legislation has to be in the hands of the clerk or it cannot be considered.
Frustrated by repeated Democratic attempts to bring up the question, someone in the GOP leadership--no one so far has squealed on the culprit--purloined the bill to prevent further action. When they discovered what happened, Democrats cried foul.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) decried the gambit as “beneath the dignity of the Senate.” And he accused Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), considered the prime suspect, of inventing a new kind of “pocket veto,” a reference to the President’s power to indirectly veto legislation.
Despite Kennedy’s contention, Republican leaders declined to specify who took the document. But under questioning from Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) admitted: “I will confess to knowing about it and even helping him to locate the papers.”
Lugar and Dole had shepherded the legislation through the Senate and arranged a compromise on the issue with House members. But they moved to freeze final Senate action after President Reagan on Monday reluctantly announced a similar, but milder, package of economic reprisals against the Pretoria regime for its continued apartheid policy.
Democrats complained that the Reagan sanctions had no teeth and would do little to force the white-minority government to adopt reforms.
After losing on two test votes to force consideration of the sanctions question, Democrats got another unsuccessful vote Thursday. Nevertheless, they indicated that they might demand other votes as well, by moving to attach sanctions provisions to important money bills set for consideration in a few weeks.
Mark Helmke, a spokesman for Lugar, said that Republicans resorted to the unusual tactic of taking the original copy of the bill because the Democrats were using the sanctions votes as “a partisan football to attack the President of the United States.”
In ‘Safe Place’
“We are just maintaining control” of the original copy of the bill, Helmke said. He added that it was in “a safe place” and would be returned to the clerk’s desk if Republicans believe Reagan has not followed through with enforcing his promised sanctions.
Meanwhile, J.H.A. Beukes, the South African ambassador-designate, said in an interview Thursday that the debate over sanctions “has deteriorated into a domestic (American) political issue--it is no longer a South Africa thing.”