The Democratic-controlled House, rejecting a last-minute plea for compromise from President Reagan, voted overwhelmingly Monday night to override his veto of new sanctions against South Africa.
The 313-83 vote in the House sets the stage for a final showdown on the issue between the President and members of his own party in the Senate later this week. White House sources acknowledged that Reagan is still at least a dozen votes short of the number needed to sustain his veto in the GOP-dominated Senate.
Both chambers must cast a two-thirds vote to override a presidential veto.
In the House, 81 Republicans joined with 232 Democrats in voting to override. Even Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.) conceded in a speech supporting Reagan: “To put it in the mildest terms, the Administration has been less than brilliant in handling this issue.”
Shortly before the House vote, Reagan sought to dampen congressional enthusiasm for overriding the veto with a five-page letter addressed to Michel and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) in which he pledged to issue an executive order imposing new sanctions on South Africa--although ones that are considerably weaker than those enacted by Congress.
Call for Unity
A key provision of the executive order would state clearly that the President’s policy on South Africa preempts state and local laws such as California’s landmark divestment bill, signed last Friday by Gov. George Deukmejian.
The President called on Congress to unite with him behind the executive order in the spirit of compromise.
“With the actions I propose today,” he said, “I believe it is clear that my Administration’s intentions and those of the Congress are identical.”
But key Republicans such as Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declared that the President’s promised executive order was too little, too late. Lugar has argued that anything less than enactment of the bill passed by Congress would be viewed as a victory for the white-led minority government in Pretoria.
“Congress has already debated this issue,” a spokesman for Lugar said. “We wish that the White House had wanted to participate when it was being debated by Congress.”
Democrats See Loophole
Among other provisions, the congressional legislation would ban the importation of coal, uranium, agricultural products or textiles from South Africa; revoke U.S. landing rights for South African airliners; prohibit new bank loans to South Africa and prohibit all new U.S. investment in that country.
The executive order promised by Reagan would not include any of these provisions. Instead, it would ban new U.S. investment in companies that fail to follow the currently accepted, international standards for employment of blacks in South Africa known as the Sullivan principles. Democrats viewed this stipulation as a big loophole that would exempt investment in most U.S. companies that currently do business in South Africa.
Like the legislation he vetoed, Reagan’s executive order would also ban the importation of iron and steel and outlaw U.S. bank accounts for the Pretoria government and its agencies. It would also provide at least $25 million in aid for disadvantaged South Africans as long as none of them are guilty of a “gross violation of internationally recognized human rights.”
In addition, it would promise retaliation against countries taking unfair trade advantage of U.S. measures against South Africa, authorize a study of ways to reduce U.S. dependence on South African minerals, call for another report on whether the measures would increase U.S. or allied dependence on materials from the Soviet Bloc and require consultation with U.S. allies on further steps.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), responding to the President with a letter of his own, characterized the proposed executive order as “a step backward” in the development of U.S. policy.
Debate Over Law
“What you are now proposing to do represents a softening of the U.S. position on apartheid, a position rejected in a bipartisan fashion by both houses of Congress,” he said.
O’Neill specifically criticized Reagan for trying to preempt the California law. But staff attorneys in Congress insisted that under the executive order, just as under the legislation itself, the question of whether federal law preempts state and local laws on this issue would ultimately have to be decided by the courts.
Although an executive order by the President successfully undermined congressional support for sanctions enacted by Congress last year, many members declared that the same tactic would not work this time because matters are growing worse in South Africa.
“The time has come to stop playing that game,” said Rep. Dante B. Fascell (D-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “The time has come to make the message clear and unified on a bipartisan basis.”
Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.) described the proposed executive order as “a counterfeit version of the bill” that would inflict a cost of only $267 million on the South African economy, compared to an estimated $3.6 billion under Congress’ bill.
“If this veto is sustained, there will be praise in Pretoria and sadness in Soweto,” he said.
Even some members of the House Republican leadership, such as Rep. Lynn Martin (R-Ill.), stood to argue against the President’s position.
“Mr. President, in this veto message about South Africa, you are wrong,” Martin said.
She continued, as if speaking directly to Reagan: “What if you had been refused an education in Tampico because of your color? What if your parents couldn’t have moved to Dixon (Ill.) because of travel passes? What if you could not be President because your supporters were denied the vote?”