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Sen. Dole attempts to name AIDS bill after Jesse Helms

Critics were outraged over the failed effort aimed at the global $48 billion measure to battle AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

By Lisa Zagaroli, McClatchy Newspapers

78-helmsobit_doc_ART_GJ53K6JI_1 bonohelms_AA_0705__JPG_embedded_prod_affiliate_57 WASHINGTON -- Former Sen. Jesse Helms might have changed his mind when it came to AIDS policy, but his softened stance wasn't far enough to keep activists from crying foul when his successor tried to name an AIDS relief bill after him.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., introduced an amendment to add Helms, the N.C. Republican who died July 4, to the title of a $48billion bill passed Wednesday in the Senate that triples spending for a much-acclaimed program that has treated and protected millions in Africa and elsewhere from the scourges of AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

Her measure, though, didn't get a vote. The legislation was already named after two other lawmakers who fought against the spread of AIDS, former Reps. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., and Tom Lantos, D-Calif.

Helms changed his view on foreign relief programs late in his Senate career, and teamed up with rock star Bono to help suffering populations overseas.

What many critics won't soon forget are Helms' comments like this one about people with AIDS in his own country: “There is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy.”

A spokesman for the Global AIDS Alliance said Dole's amendment was inappropriate.

“There are aspects of his legacy that are very negative when it comes to HIV prevention,” David Bryden said. “It is true that Helms toward the very end of his career started to show more compassion, particularly toward mothers and children affected by this disease. But we're still dealing with a legacy of Sen. Helms when it comes to the HIV epidemic amongst injecting drug users.”

Bryden said Helms fought against needle exchanges and other programs that AIDS activists say are proven to curb the spread of the contagious disease.

“We are still dealing with provisions in the law that came from Jesse Helms that really hamstring our efforts to reach that population,” he said.

Dole's amendment, quietly introduced Monday, was first reported Wednesday by the Huffington Post. The news quickly spread on the blogosphere, where there was a proliferation of Helms quotes – such as 1995 comments to The New York Times, which quoted him as saying people got AIDS because of “deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct.”

“We've got to have some common sense about a disease transmitted by people deliberately engaging in unnatural acts,” Helms, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said at the time.

Asked why it was appropriate to name the bill after Helms, Dole's office referred to a 2002 article in the San Francisco Chronicle which described how Helms changed his position on helping Africans with AIDS after befriending Bono, the iconic singer who has become synonymous with the cause.

“Sen. Helms played a critical role in moving the U.S. into a position where it's devoting substantial resources to provide aid to those in need in Africa,” said Dole spokesman Wes Climer.

Helms was quoted as telling Christian activists, “I have been too lax too long in doing something really significant about AIDS.”

When Helms died earlier this month, Bono left a voice mail for John Dodd, director of the Jesse Helms Center in Wingate, saying, “There are 2million people alive in Africa today because Jesse Helms did the right thing.”

Still, in the same Chronicle article, Helms didn't soften his stance about fighting AIDS at home among people who acquired the infection through homosexual activity.

“I don't have any idea on changing my views on that kind of activity, which is the primary cause of the doubling and redoubling of AIDS cases in the United States,” Helms said.

Climer said the senator's amendment wasn't considered because she introduced it too late – after a procedural move had determined which changes could be considered.

Dole is seeking to maintain the Senate seat Helms vacated in 2003. She's being challenged by Kay Hagan, a five-term Democratic state senator from the Greensboro area.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., briefly mentioned Helms' involvement in the AIDS relief initiative before President Bush got involved.

The global AIDS bill, which expanded President Bush's initiative in Africa and included help for combating malaria and tuberculosis, had been held up in part by an attempt by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., to cut the $48 billion in the bill devoted to overseas relief to $35 billion.

Dole voted to keep the higher level of funding, while DeMint and Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., voted to lower the dollar amount. DeMint's amendment was defeated 64-31, and the overall bill then passed 80-16.

The two N.C. senators voted for the overall bill, which still must be reconciled with the House version, while the two S.C. lawmakers opposed it.

Former Sen. Jesse Helms might have changed his mind when it came to AIDS policy, but his softened stance wasn't far enough to keep activists from crying foul when his successor tried to name an AIDS relief bill after him.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., introduced an amendment to add Helms, the N.C. Republican who died July 4, to the title of a $48billion bill passed Wednesday in the Senate that triples spending for a much-acclaimed program that has treated and protected millions in Africa and elsewhere from the scourges of AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

Her measure, though, didn't get a vote. The legislation was already named after two other lawmakers who fought against the spread of AIDS, former Reps. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., and Tom Lantos, D-Calif.

Helms changed his view on foreign relief programs late in his Senate career, and teamed up with rock star Bono to help suffering populations overseas.

What many critics won't soon forget are Helms' comments like this one about people with AIDS in his own country: “There is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy.”

A spokesman for the Global AIDS Alliance said Dole's amendment was inappropriate.

“There are aspects of his legacy that are very negative when it comes to HIV prevention,” David Bryden said. “It is true that Helms toward the very end of his career started to show more compassion, particularly toward mothers and children affected by this disease. But we're still dealing with a legacy of Sen. Helms when it comes to the HIV epidemic amongst injecting drug users.”

Bryden said Helms fought against needle exchanges and other programs that AIDS activists say are proven to curb the spread of the contagious disease.

“We are still dealing with provisions in the law that came from Jesse Helms that really hamstring our efforts to reach that population,” he said.

Dole's amendment, quietly introduced Monday, was first reported Wednesday by the Huffington Post. The news quickly spread on the blogosphere, where there was a proliferation of Helms quotes – such as 1995 comments to The New York Times, which quoted him as saying people got AIDS because of “deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct.”

“We've got to have some common sense about a disease transmitted by people deliberately engaging in unnatural acts,” Helms, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said at the time.

Asked why it was appropriate to name the bill after Helms, Dole's office referred to a 2002 article in the San Francisco Chronicle which described how Helms changed his position on helping Africans with AIDS after befriending Bono, the iconic singer who has become synonymous with the cause.

“Sen. Helms played a critical role in moving the U.S. into a position where it's devoting substantial resources to provide aid to those in need in Africa,” said Dole spokesman Wes Climer.

Helms was quoted as telling Christian activists, “I have been too lax too long in doing something really significant about AIDS.”

When Helms died earlier this month, Bono left a voice mail for John Dodd, director of the Jesse Helms Center in Wingate, saying, “There are 2million people alive in Africa today because Jesse Helms did the right thing.”

Still, in the same Chronicle article, Helms didn't soften his stance about fighting AIDS at home among people who acquired the infection through homosexual activity.

“I don't have any idea on changing my views on that kind of activity, which is the primary cause of the doubling and redoubling of AIDS cases in the United States,” Helms said.

Climer said the senator's amendment wasn't considered because she introduced it too late – after a procedural move had determined which changes could be considered.

Dole is seeking to maintain the Senate seat Helms vacated in 2003. She's being challenged by Kay Hagan, a five-term Democratic state senator from the Greensboro area.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., briefly mentioned Helms' involvement in the AIDS relief initiative before President Bush got involved.

The global AIDS bill, which expanded President Bush's initiative in Africa and included help for combating malaria and tuberculosis, had been held up in part by an attempt by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., to cut the $48 billion in the bill devoted to overseas relief to $35 billion.

Dole voted to keep the higher level of funding, while DeMint and Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., voted to lower the dollar amount. DeMint's amendment was defeated 64-31, and the overall bill then passed 80-16.

The two N.C. senators voted for the overall bill, which still must be reconciled with the House version, while the two S.C. lawmakers opposed it.

Associated Press photo

Bono, of the Irish rock band U2, and Helms share a greeting at a pre-concert meal at the new Charlotte Bobcats Arena before U2 played on Dec. 12, 2005. In an unusual and surprising partnership, Bono and Helms joined forces to combat AIDS.

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