President Bush's rebuke of new civil rights legislation is a race-conscious political ploy reminiscent of the 1988 Willie Horton campaign ad, civil rights advocates are charging.
"It is a clear attempt to incite fear in white workers, to incite fear in white businesses," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said Sunday.Bush said Saturday he would veto the bill Monday, declaring it would force businesses to adopt hiring and promotion quotas to ward off lawsuits. He sent Congress an alternate plan, but it was quickly condemned by civil rights activists.
Congressional leaders said they would wage an override battle over the vetoed bill, which they said is necessary to combat job discrimination.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., called the Bush alternative a "sham that would leave wide gaps in our anti-discrimination laws.
"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," Kennedy said.
The Senate passed the bill last week 62-34; the House 273-154. Both votes fell short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a veto.
House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., said Sunday there was no compromise in sight with the White House.
"As I understand it, we can't come to an agreement that would satisfy the real requirements of this bill, so I hope that he will sign it. He still can," Gephardt said, appearing on ABC-TV's "This Week With David Brinkley" program.
Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, said on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press" program that Congress' legislation specifically includes language to make it clear that quotas are not required.
Jackson, at a news conference, said that by raising the quota issue, Bush was trying to help Republican candidates in white neighborhoods. The election is two weeks from Tuesday.
"We hope that President Bush will not Willie Horton-ize the 1990 campaign as he did the 1988 campaign," Jackson said, referring to the black Massachusetts convict whose rape of a Maryland woman while he was on furlough became an issue in Bush's race against Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.
A White House aide said the Nov. 6 election "did not come into play" in the president's veto decision.
In his message Saturday, Bush said the bill would cause employment decisions to turn on factors of race, sex, ethnicity or religion rather than on qualifications.