WASHINGTON -- President Bush announced yesterday that he has decided to veto the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1990 tomorrow and to send to Congress an alternative version of the bill that he would be willing to sign.
The president's decision came after a day of discussion among White House officials -- some reports described it as wrangling -- over how and when the president should formally register his displeasure with the bill.
The president has contended that the bill's protections against job discrimination would prompt employers to establish racial and gender hiring quotas.
"The measure remains a quota bill because inescapably it will have the effect of forcing businesses to adopt quotas in hiring and promotion," Mr. Bush said in a statement last night.
Although Mr. Bush has adamantly threatened all along to veto the bill in its current form, White House officials said early yesterday that they were preparing to send to Congress a package of proposed changes in the bill in an attempt to reach a compromise.
Under the compromise plan, Mr. Bush would have held off vetoing the bill while Congress considered his proposed changes, officials said.
Instead, Mr. Bush decided late yesterday to return to his original course: to veto the current bill and to send to Congress his own version of the bill for its consideration.
The alternative includes "those specific changes to the Civil Rights Act of 1990 that will make it acceptable," Mr. Bush's statement said. With those changes, he said, "together we can produce legislation that will strike a blow against racial bias without institutionalizing quotas."
The compromise effort was being regarded dubiously by some in Congress and the civil rights establishment -- even before Mr. Bush's proposed changes presumably were ready to leave the White House on their way to Capitol Hill.
With the November elections nearing, the proposed compromise was being regarded by some of the civil rights bill's congressional supporters as an attempt by Mr. Bush to place responsibility for the measure's fate in the hands of Democrats in Congress rather than on a Republican White House and its congressional allies.
Even before Mr. Bush's proposed bill was released, House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., had been dubious about the chances of enacting an alternative proposal, saying Congress had gone to great lengths in trying to accommodate the president with changes last week.
Said Ralph Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights: "On the basis of the last six months, we do not believe the Bush administration will accept a strong and effective civil rights act."
The bill Mr. Bush will veto is aimed at rolling back six decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court last year that were regarded by the civil rights establishment as diluting the nation's laws against discrimination in employment. The House and Senate adopted the measure last week but by less than the votes needed to override a Bush veto.
Mr. Bush has rejected the bill principally as a measure he said would force employers to resort to quota hiring to avoid charges of discrimination, saying he would not sign a "quota bill."
White House counsel Boyden Gray outlined key provisions Mr. Bush was sending Congress:
* Cap at $150,000 the total damages an employee could win in a job discrimination suit. The White House previously had insisted on a $100,000 cap.
* Allow those people filing suit to press their cases if employers could not explain their hiring methods in legal terms. But it would not immediately allow those claiming to be discrimination victims to win merely because the employer could provide no records or rationale for his hiring methods.
* As in the bill passed by Congress, make employers prove in court that hiring practices with a disparate impact on minorities and women were prompted by business necessity.