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BUSH BACKS GOP’S ANTI-QUOTA PLAN

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President Bush met with Republican senators Wednesday and gave his backing to a new GOP proposal that would avoid quotas in a major civil rights bill against job discrimination, the lawmakers said.

"The president wants to sign a bill and he wants us to work it out," said Sen. John C. Danforth, an author of the proposed compromise.Danforth said Bush has supported his plan, but he refused to give specifics.

Bush met with Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, Danforth and Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and James Jeffords of Vermont in an effort to rekindle the negotiations with Democrats led by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and civil rights leaders.

On Tuesday, the White House renewed a veto threat against the Kennedy civil rights bill unless it is shorn of what Bush regards as quotas.

Bush, in a speech before the National Council of La Raza, told the Hispanic group, "We renew the fight for a civil rights bill today. I need your help to make the changes needed to ensure a bill that does not result in quotas."

Specter told reporters, "Our instructions from the president were to go back to work and solve the problem and we are determined to do that."

He said all sides agree on the need to overturn last year's Supreme Court ruling in the Wards Cove case that narrowed protection against job bias and to return to the earlier Supreme Court interpretation that had prevailed since 1971.

Bush has said the Kennedy bill would force employers to resort to job-hiring quotas to protect themselves against discrimination suits by disgruntled workers.

The heart of the dispute is over defining when business necessity justifies hiring practices that may result in low numbers of minority workers.

The Senate, after a bitter debate Thursday, voted 62-38 earlier to limit debate on the civil rights bills. That brought an angry reaction from Dole, who said Republicans were being muzzled. The two sides later returned to the bargaining table.

Provisions of the bill range from a ban on racial harassment in the workplace to punitive damages for victims of intentional discrimination.