Liberals, Feminists Press Clinton to Stand with Affirmative Action

Article excerpt

RAISING THEIR VOICES in the debate over affirmative action, liberal Democrats and women's advocates pressed President Bill Clinton on Wednesday to resist political pressure to retreat.

"We will not be eliminated from this debate," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority.

In White House meetings, Capitol Hill speeches and a march across Pennsylvania Avenue, traditional allies of Clinton and his party intensified their lobbying as the president neared the end of his review of federal affirmative action programs.

It threatens to become a key issue in the 1996 campaign, with Clinton needing support from the liberal wing of his party even as he casts himself as a centrist Democrat not beholden to the left.

Some of his visitors walked away confident that Clinton would not roll back. But he also faced skepticism and frustration from some old political friends, showing how difficult the issue has become.

Willie Brown, speaker of the California Assembly, said after a private meeting with Clinton, "He indicated clearly that as it now stands that there is insufficient basis for abolishment of affirmative action."

Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women, said White House officials had assured women's advocates that Clinton supported affirmative action programs based on gender.

But Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said minorities and women would no longer stand with Clinton or his party if affirmative action is abandoned. "No party is so important that we will belong to it if it undermines us on this issue. No president is so important that we will belong to him if he undermines us on this issue," she said.

And Ireland said, "I am disturbed that we don't have a clear, firm statement already." She added, "Words are cheap and words are easy inside a closed conference room."

In announcing his review last month, Clinton promised to emphasize "need-based" programs, raising concerns that some based on race or gender could be sacrificed.

Promising that Clinton will not turn his back on affirmative action, Mike McCurry, the White House press secretary, had a firm response Wednesday for critics of the president's review. …

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