A bill to renew the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for 25 years passed the Senate Thursday. The vote was 98-0

As President Bush appeared for the first time before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Senate churned through debate on the law, enacted to halt racist voting practices in the South.

"I understand that many African-Americans distrust my political party," Bush told the crowd.

"I look forward to the Senate passing this bill promptly, without amendment," he added, interrupted by applause, "so I can sign it into law."

Few obstacles stood in the way of Congress renewing the landmark civil rights law — a year before it expires.

The effect of the law "has been profound, to put it mildly," said Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., whose panel a day earlier approved the renewal 18-0.

Though progress can be seen in majority-black city councils and legislative delegations throughout the South, hearings in Congress have revealed that racist voting practices still exist and that renewal is appropriate, lawmakers said.

"It will not remove all discrimination by any means," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., "But it is a major step to let everybody in the country know that all of us — all of us — are equal as Americans with equal rights, no matter the color of our skin."

The bill passed the House 390-33 last week, with opposition mostly from Southern Republicans who said the law unfairly singles out their states for racist voting practices of yesteryear without crediting them with improvements. A few senators have echoed those concerns, but the renewal is expected to pass in that chamber overwhelmingly.