Democrats Decry Bush Veto of Job-Discrimination Bill President Bush's Veto of New Civil Rights Legislation Angers Both Democratic Backers of the Measure and Republican Candidates Fearing Electoral Backlash

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A LARGELY partisan struggle to assign blame is under way following the breakdown of a nine-month effort to pass new civil rights legislation that would have strengthened laws against discrimination in the workplace. President Bush is losing, and Democratic and civil rights proponents of the congressionally passed legislation are winning.

"This, like the budget, is an exercise in spin," says Douglas Besharov, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "Just as the president lost the spin on the budget thing, I think he is in the process of losing the spin on civil rights."

That is not helpful to Republican candidates in the election two weeks away who are seeking sizable numbers of minority votes. And it could have implications for the president himself in his bid for a second term in two years.

The congressionally approved legislation sought to reverse a United States Supreme Court ruling of last year and require employers to have the burden of proving that an apparently discriminatory action against an employee is justified for business reasons. Last year's Supreme Court decision transferred the burden of proof to the employee.

The president said that he vetoed this civil rights bill Monday largely because it would have had the effect of forcing businesses to set quotas in the hiring and promoting of women and minorities in order to avoid lawsuits. He said that he could not accept quotas.

As he has all year, Mr. Bush insists that he still wants to sign a civil rights measure, and calls on Congress to pass a new bill more to his liking in this final week of its session. He has offered some proposals that civil rights leaders and some leading congressional Democrats flatly reject.

Meanwhile Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, the principal Senate sponsor of the vetoed measure, calls the president's rejection "a cynical attempt to appear to support civil rights while actually satisfying the anti-civil rights forces in his own party."

Senator Kennedy adds that "the president's actions demonstrate that he is more interested in appeasing extremists in his party than in providing simple justice for the millions of working women and minorities who face bias on the job."

After talks that were aimed at reaching a compromise acceptable to the White House had broken off, a Kennedy aide said Monday: "We're always willing to talk, but we don't think there is any more room" to negotiate. …