WASHINGTON -- Civil rights leaders, engaged in last-ditch efforts to convince President Bush to sign into law the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1990, saw a glimmer of a chance yesterday that Mr. Bush might be persuaded not to carry out his threat to veto the measure.
As demonstrators marched outside the White House urging Mr. Bush to sign the legislation, the civil rights leaders sought one more meeting with the president before he makes, as they said, "a final decision on this vital and historic legislation."
Meanwhile, they won some more negotiating time before the threatened veto could occur: White House officials said the legislation had not arrived before the president left shortly after 6 yesterday to spend the weekend at Camp David.
The major civil rights legislation was passed this week by the House and Senate but by margins too small to override a presidential veto.
The chance of saving the bill from a veto was characterized as a "faint hope" by William T. Coleman Jr., a civil rights lawyer and key behind-the-scenes negotiator who met with the president Thursday evening.
Mr. Coleman's characterization reportedly was based on a compromise proposal that appeared to emerge from a meeting the president had Thursday afternoon with a group of Republican senators.
Under the compromise, Mr. Bush would sign the Civil Rights Act into law and, at the same time, Congress would approve a second piece of legislation, called a concurrent resolution.
The resolution -- which also would have to be adopted by both houses of Congress -- would "adjust" the Civil Rights Act to make it palatable to the president. But the resolution would not require the president's signature and, therefore, would not have the force of law; it would merely express "the sense of Congress."
The aim of the civil rights legislation is to roll back six Supreme Court decisions from last year that, in effect, diluted the nation's laws dealing with discrimination in employment. Mr. Bush has said that he wants to "sign a civil rights bill" but that the wording of this bill would force employers to resort to using hiring quotas to avoid being sued for discriminatory practices. He has insisted he will not sign a "quota bill."
Marlin Fitzwater, the president's spokesman, said that the bill in its current form "is a quota bill that sets back the course of civil rights."
A concurrent resolution reportedly would be based on an alternative civil rights bill proposed last summer by Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan., and Representative John J. LaFalce, D-N.Y., which received only 35 votes in the House.
Meanwhile, leaders of the major civil rights organizations, groups representing women's rights, Hispanics and the handicapped, as well as several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, demonstrated on the sidewalk in front of the White House yesterday, demanding that Mr. Bush sign the civil rights bill.
The 200 marchers carried placards and chanted, "Sign the bill, sign the bill."
A delegation of the leaders met briefly on the White House grounds with Fred McClure, Mr. Bush's congressional relations aide, and in a symbolic gesture handed him a copy of the civil rights bill to give to the president for his signature. At the same time, the leaders gave Mr. McClure a note to the president requesting a final meeting with him.