WASHINGTON - The House of Representatives approved a sweeping crime bill early today, giving President Bill Clinton a much-needed political victory.
Mr Clinton had made the bill a centrepiece of his legislative programme and had been telephoning members of Congress for support during the debate. In the end the bill got a solid majority of 235 votes to 195.
The $30bn ( pounds 19bn) bill, described as the most ambitious anti-crime legislation in 50 years, bans 19 types of semi-automatic assault weapons and had been bitterly opposed by the gun lobby. It now goes to the Senate, where it must overcome strong Republican opposition before it can be sent to the President for signature into law. Appealing to senators to pass the measure, Mr Clinton said: "This is the strongest, toughest crime bill in the history of the US."
The victory in the House was seen as a psychological boost for Mr Clinton at a crucial time when his plans for health care reform are on the ropes in the Senate.
The President and Democratic leaders suffered a stunning defeat 10 days ago when the House voted 225-210 to block debate on the bill, setting off a hunt for additional support. That finally came from moderate Republicans who worked with key Democrats to fashion a scaled-down bill in two days of marathon negotiating sessions that ended early yesterday. …