WHITE HOUSE officials are being blatantly disingenuous when they say they want a civil rights bill that President Bush can sign. Chief of Staff John Sununu and presidential counsel C. Boyden Gray, in fact, seem bent on sandbagging every effort to reach a compromise over quotas, the unresolved issue that Bush said forced him to veto the civil rights bill that Congress passed last year.
If he really wants a bill, Bush himself needs to step in now, and call off aides who are working against compromise. He must renew the commitment he made last year to meaningful civil rights legislation by taking action that will move it into the lawbooks.
Sununu and Gray have been telephoning members of the Business Roundtable, representatives of 200 large corporations, who have been trying to forge a compromise. Depending on who tells the story, the calls are either attempts to sabotage the Roundtable's negotiations with civil rights groups or efforts to garner support for weaker legislation introduced by Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo.
Either way, this kind of pressure is not helpful. It suggests the question of quotas is merely a smokescreen masking opposition to any civil rights legislation. In his veto message, Bush said that last year's bill to offset six Supreme Court decisions weakening anti-discrimination laws would set standards that would force employers to impose racial hiring quotas to protect themselves.
If that is truly his rationale, he should be the last to interfere with efforts by business leaders to reach a compromise on the quota issue. Why not let those most involved work out their differences?
Civil rights leaders are understandably upset. Last May, during an hour-long meeting with black leaders at the White House, Bush urged them to find ways to compromise with business interests on civil rights legislation. And White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said flatly, "The president would like to sign the civil rights bill." Earlier, Bush spoke eloquently of his support for equal opportunity and equal protection under the law for all citizens.
If Bush still means what he said then, he must end this game of chasing imaginary quotas and agree to a civil rights bill.