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. …