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Clinton Issues a Call for Prayer to Revive His Stalled Crime Package : Legislation: The President visits a church in a Washington suburb and pleads for help to resurrect measure defeated in the House last week.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

President Clinton turned from politics to prayer Sunday in hopes of resurrecting his stalled crime package, saying it was the “will of God” that lawmakers make citizens “as safe as we possibly can.”

Clinton asked for the prayers of 2,000 congregants at a black church in Washington’s suburbs as he and Democratic leaders in Congress sought a way to overcome opposition to the Administration’s $33-billion anti-crime measure, which was defeated in the House on Thursday.

“We don’t have a bigger problem than the violence that is eating the heart out of this country,” Clinton told members of the Full Gospel AME Zion Church in Temple Hills, Md. ". . . I ask you to pray and to speak to your friends and neighbors and to hope somehow we will all find the wisdom and judgment to come back and do the will of God in our ministry, which is to make you as safe as we possibly can.”

Clinton traveled to church Sunday morning from Camp David, where he spent the weekend trying to salvage not only the crime bill but also his sweeping health care reform initiative, which has run into major roadblocks that threaten to derail it until at least next year.

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“Our ministry is to do the word of God here on Earth, and that starts with giving our children and our families a place in which at least they can be safe and secure,” Clinton said, his voice raspy and hushed from allergies and overuse.

Clinton admitted that he had been “pretty down” since the bill’s defeat, the most stinging legislative rebuke of his presidency. But he declared: “We have to find a way out of this.”

The President and other White House officials gave no ground on Sunday, insisting that they would brook no changes in the bill.

“We want the key elements to be part of this bill,” said White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta. Those provisions include funds for another 100,000 police officers, a ban on 19 types of assault weapons and billions of dollars for social programs aimed at preventing crime.

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Appearing on the CBS-TV program “Face the Nation,” Panetta firmly rejected Republican calls to strip the assault-weapons provision out of the bill and submit it to a separate vote. Many members of Congress--including a number of the 58 Democrats who voted against the bill--cited the weapons ban as their chief reason for opposing the measure.

“For us now to give in to the National Rifle Assn. would have the Congress basically capitulating to that special interest,” Panetta said.

The Administration’s chief antagonist in the House, GOP Whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia, said Republicans would be happy to consider a crime bill shorn of the assault-weapons ban and several billion dollars in crime prevention programs that the GOP considers “pork” for Democratic lawmakers.

"(The President) is currently fighting to keep a bill which is weak on crime and fat on pork, and he ought to be honest with the American people,” Gingrich said on ABC-TV’s “This Week With David Brinkley.”

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In another matter, Senate Democratic leader George J. Mitchell of Maine added his voice to those questioning a judicial panel’s appointment of Kenneth W. Starr to replace independent counsel Robert B. Fiske Jr. in the investigation of Clinton and some of his subordinates in the Whitewater affair.

Mitchell, appearing on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press,” said the three-judge panel that oversees independent counsels had violated the very standard--the “appearance of independence"--that it had embraced in removing Fiske, who had been appointed by Atty. Gen. Janet Reno.

Without questioning Starr’s ability and integrity, Mitchell noted that Starr is “an active Republican” who considered running for the Senate last year. Starr is co-chairman of a Republican’s congressional campaign, a regular contributor to Republican candidates and, when he was solicitor general, a high political appointee of the George Bush Administration, Mitchell said.

Without calling on Starr to step down, Mitchell said there “is a very heavy burden on him to establish his fairness and independence.”

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Appearing on the same show, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) dismissed the controversy as an attempt by Clinton’s team “to intimidate Starr, trying to make it impossible for him to do the right thing.”

Times staff writer Ronald J. Ostrow contributed to this story.


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