Its future was extremely clouded after Tuesday's high-profile vote that brought Vice President Al Gore in from the presidential campaign trail in case his tie-breaking vote was needed. It wasn't.
But shortly after the Senate's 57-42 vote to add the hate-crimes measure to a sprawling defense bill, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., had the Senate put aside the underlying defense bill.
Instead, it turned to a foreign aid measure that it will continue to debate on Wednesday--with no set time for when the Senate might get back to debating the defense bill.
That leaves the hate-crime measure in limbo, even though Democrats vowed to try to keep it alive.
The House has never passed such a measure, nor is support for it seen as strong there.
Even so, Gore and Senate Democrats were able to claim an important, but possibly largely symbolic, victory after 13 Republicans crossed party lines to vote with them on Tuesday.
Although his vote wasn't needed, Gore was on hand for the vote in the Senate. At a news conference afterward, he credited families of victims of hate crimes for pushing the issue.
``This vote is a sign of hope for all of America,'' Gore said. The vice president had been campaigning in Kentucky when Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota told him his presence might be needed.
Republicans suggested Gore's trip to the Capitol was political grandstanding--and that the vote was never in serious doubt.
The Senate had passed an identical bill the year before by voice vote, but it died in the House.
Gore disputed that his return to the Senate was politically motivated, saying, ``It's my job.''
The vote further bogged down the defense bill, which has now become a catchall for many pet pieces of legislation, mostly pushed by Democrats.
Earlier, a campaign-finance proposal pushed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was added to the bill.
Lott suggested that, unless some way was devised to separate the unrelated amendments, the entire defense bill might have to be indefinitely put aside.
Lott has insisted his top priority is getting needed spending bills through Congress--even if it means that other major pieces of legislation must fall by the wayside.
In another vote on the defense bill on Tuesday, the Senate rejected, 50-49, a proposal to permit military women serving overseas to have abortions in base hospitals, so long as the procedures are paid for with private funds.
The hate-crimes measure was sponsored by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who said it would give ``the federal government a stronger role in dealing with the festering problem of hate crimes that continues to plague our country.''
But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the measure was too broad--and would amount to federalization of many crimes of violence, including rape.
Hatch offered his own version, calling for a study of whether states and localities were pursuing hate crime prosecutions, and providing $5 million a year for the Justice Department to help pay for such prosecutions.
The Senate accepted Hatch's amendment, 50-49, then went on to approve Kennedy's.
The legislation would add offenses motivated by sexual orientation, gender or disability to the list of hate crimes already covered under a 1968 federal law.
It also would give federal prosecutors the option of pursuing a hate-crime case if local authorities refused to press charges.
Supporters cited the 1998 death in Jasper, Texas, of James Byrd, a 49-year-old black man, who was dragged behind a pickup truck; and the death, also in 1998, of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old homosexual University of Wyoming student, who died after being beaten into a coma and tied to a fence.
The underlying defense bill is S. 2549