WASHINGTON — The Republican Senate shot down consideration of anti-apartheid legislation again Wednesday, but Democrats refused to give up the fight for congressionally ordered economic reprisals against South Africa.
After the Senate refused for a second time to shut off debate and vote on the measure, leaders on each side accused the other of exploiting the issue for political gain.
"This is no longer an issue on what's good for South Africa," Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) charged as he moved to keep the sanctions bill off the Senate floor. "It's a raw political issue. South Africa's secondary."
But Sen. Alan J. Cranston (D-Calif.), floor manager for the sanctions measure, blamed Republicans for fracturing what had been a bipartisan push for the bill. Their motive, Cranston charged, was to save President Reagan from a public rebuke over the limited sanctions he imposed on South Africa on Monday.
"The President is seeking to deal with a domestic political issue," Cranston argued. "We are seeking to deal with a moral, human rights issue."
The legislation, which would limit American bank loans and computer sales to the white minority government in Pretoria as well as ban South African gold coin imports to the United States, already had passed the House overwhelmingly and was sailing toward Senate approval this week until key Republicans withdrew support after Reagan's announcement.
Reagan's program is similar, but Democrats contend that it is also much milder and will not serve to press the Pretoria government into making racial reforms.
Technically, the vote Wednesday and an earlier vote Monday did not represent a defeat for the legislation, which remains suspended on the Senate calendar. On both occasions, Democrats and liberal Republicans failed to muster the 60 votes they needed to cut off a filibuster and set the bill up for final passage. Only a majority vote is required for passage and that was considered a virtual certainty.
Racially Tinged Nature
Instead, the latest cloture vote was 57 to 41, three votes shy of the margin needed to end the filibuster. Intense jockeying for support continued until the final ballot was cast. Moments before the voting started, several members of the Congressional Black Caucus marched into the back of the Senate, all of whose members are white, to underscore the racially tinged nature of the debate.
Ten Republicans broke ranks and sided with the Democrats, voting to shut off debate and bring the sanctions to a vote. But two others who had voted with Democrats on Monday returned to the GOP fold. One of them, Sen. Robert T. Stafford of Vermont, said he wanted to give Reagan a chance to prove that he is sincere about enforcing the sanctions he imposed in an executive order.
After losing, Cranston vowed to force another procedural vote on sanctions today and possibly another one next week, although he conceded that both efforts appear doomed to failure. He predicted that the Democrats would succeed in attaching pieces of the sanctions legislation to important money bills, such as one raising the national debt ceiling. Such bills are vital to the operation of the federal government and difficult for Reagan to veto.
'Until We Win'
"We are going to keep this issue before the Congress and the country until we win," the California senator declared.
Dole bristled at the Democrats' charges that he had blocked action under pressure from the White House, and he pledged to hold Reagan accountable on his pledge to increase the economic pressure against South Africa's apartheid policies.
"I give my word to this body," Dole said, "if there's any slippage, if there's any turning back on the part of the White House and the President, then this senator personally will call up the conference report (bill) and will support it."
As he signed the executive order imposing limited sanctions, Reagan vowed that he will veto the congressional measure if it reaches his desk in its present form. The Administration's chief objection is a provision requiring additional economic sanctions against South African after a year unless Congress and the President agree that the Pretoria government has made substantial progress in eight specific areas bearing on human and political rights.