August 27, 1997 in Nation/World

Conservative Crusade Publisher Forbes And Christian Coalition’s Hodel Call Upon The Republican Party To Drop ‘Off-Message’ Issues, Take Gauntlet And Battle What They See As A Worldwide Persecution Of The Faithful.

Sam Fulwood Iii Los Angeles Times
 

Escalating a bitter, intraparty dispute, magazine publisher and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes said Tuesday that Republican leaders of Congress are “badly off-message” and flirting with ruin by failing to adhere to conservative principles.

Appearing with new Christian Coalition President Don Hodel at a gathering sponsored by Human Events magazine, Forbes singled out the GOP-negotiated balanced budget bill as “an abomination” at which the party faithful “can only shake their head in wonder.”

Hodel, meanwhile, outlining the Christian Coalition’s legislative agenda a week before Congress returns from its summer recess, said the group’s top priority is the elimination of worldwide persecution of Christians and other devoutly religious people.

“More Christians have been killed in this century than in the 1,900 years preceding it,” said Hodel, who replaced Ralph Reed as head of the conservative, 1.9 million-member Christian organization earlier this year. He listed Sudan, Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia as particularly dangerous places for Christians and Jews.

Hodel said he was concerned with the persecution of all religious people and added that his group would urge passage of legislation to create a White House office to investigate charges of political oppression of faith-based people and to take appropriate sanctions.

Under Reed’s leadership, the Christian Coalition had set racial reconciliation and urban renewal as its top legislative goals for the current congressional session. But in his remarks Tuesday, Hodel never mentioned racial concerns as a priority and didn’t explain why the group was shifting gears in the middle of the legislative session.

“We place (elimination of religious oppression) at the top of our agenda,” Hodel said. “We do so because it is an international crisis, and U.S. inaction is a disgrace. Americans must speak out.”

In his remarks, Forbes appeared to be positioning himself for a possible repeat bid for his party’s presidential nomination in 2000. He floated a set of hard-line conservative social ideas of the same sort that he eschewed during his failed 1996 campaign, which focused almost exclusively on his argument for replacing the current income tax system with a flat tax.

Referring to the title of the forum - “Framing the Debate for ‘98 - What the Republican Congress Should Do Now” - Forbes said the GOP-led Congress “must lay out a simple, conservative, bold agenda for the American people” or risk losing control of the legislature.

“The GOP is badly off-message,” he said. “They are drifting off their principles, and they’re not sure what they’re here for, and that’s why we’re here.”

But it was unclear if there was any reason other than the magazine’s invitation for the joint appearance by Forbes and the Christian Coalition leader.

Forbes has been making political jabs at GOP leaders in Washington, causing some observers to speculate that he is gearing up for a presidential run and others to take offense at his attacks on the already-beleaguered party leaders.

Last week, for example, Forbes made many of the same comments during a speech at the Republicans’ Midwestern Leadership Conference in Indianapolis. His remarks there, before an audience widely viewed as a first-round test for prospective GOP presidential candidates, drew a sharp rebuke from House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.

In a published report, Gingrich said, “There are a handful of people out there making a lot of noise about what they would do in a fantasy world. … They’re the sort of opposition Republicans and their goal is to say, ‘Don’t get anything agreed to, don’t compromise with any individual.”’

When asked about Gingrich’s comments, Forbes fired back.

“The real fantasy is believing this budget deal does a favor for the American people,” Forbes said, adding that the speaker is too passive and willing to compromise with the Clinton administration. “Based on my travels around the country and talking to people, the Republican rank and file is not happy with what this Congress has done.”

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: THE RIGHT STUFF Don Hodel, new president of the the Christian Coalition, outlined his top legislative priorities. They are for Congress to: Pass the Freedom From Religious Persecution Act, which would create a White House office for reporting religious persecution worldwide, impose sanctions on foreign governments that carry out religious persecution and improve asylum procedures. Pass the American Community Renewal Act to create scholarships, charitable tax credits, empowerment zones for impoverished communities and support for faith-based organizations that serve the inner city. Pass a religious freedom amendment to the Constitution in response to a Supreme Court ruling that struck down legislation intended to protect religious practices from undue government interference. Eliminate the “tax penalty” for marriages and reduce individual tax rates across the board. Create education savings accounts for kindergarten through 12th grade and provide more choices for public and private school students.

This sidebar appeared with the story: THE RIGHT STUFF Don Hodel, new president of the the Christian Coalition, outlined his top legislative priorities. They are for Congress to: Pass the Freedom From Religious Persecution Act, which would create a White House office for reporting religious persecution worldwide, impose sanctions on foreign governments that carry out religious persecution and improve asylum procedures. Pass the American Community Renewal Act to create scholarships, charitable tax credits, empowerment zones for impoverished communities and support for faith-based organizations that serve the inner city. Pass a religious freedom amendment to the Constitution in response to a Supreme Court ruling that struck down legislation intended to protect religious practices from undue government interference. Eliminate the “tax penalty” for marriages and reduce individual tax rates across the board. Create education savings accounts for kindergarten through 12th grade and provide more choices for public and private school students.


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