The White House "sabotaged" negotiations between civil-rights groups and a coalition of major companies, a civil-rights leader charged, but he was hopeful that the talks would soon resume.
Top business executives had been meeting with civil-rights leaders since December, hoping to fashion a compromise deal on civil-rights legislation and avoid a repeat of last year's bruising political battle between Congress and the White House.But the negotiations collapsed Friday when Robert Allen, chairman and chief executive officer of American Telephone & Telegraph Co. pulled out of the talks. Allen had been the "point man" in the negotiations on behalf of the Business Roundtable, a coalition of some 200 major corporations.
"If the White House had not sabotaged the efforts, I'm confident we would have been able to make joint recommendations to Congress and the president in the very near future," said Ralph Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
"I think what the White House did was reprehensible," Neas said Monday. "It should be obvious to everyone that the White House does not want a strong civil-rights bill enacted into law," Neas said. "What the White House wants is a political issue around which to demagogue."
"We are disappointed," Neas said. "Much prog-ress has been made. But we hope we will be able to resume discussions in the near future."
A civil-rights source said "the White House senior staff went into a frenzy" after learning that civil-rights leaders and the big corporations were making progress on compromise language.
"The White House exerted extraordinary pressure on the Business Roundtable," the source said.
The Democrats have reintroduced a civil-rights bill that passed Congress last year but was vetoed by President Bush. The effort to overturn the veto failed by one vote. The bill would reverse six recent rulings by the Supreme Court making it harder to win job-discrimination lawsuits. The measure also would broaden monetary damages for victims of intentional job discrimination.
The White House has labeled the Democratic measure a "quota" bill. Although it contains no references to racial "quotas," the White House and business leaders say it would force companies to hire and promote fixed numbers of minorites and women to avoid being sued.