Paul C. Warnke was overwhelmingly approved yesterday by one Senate committee as head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and chief strategic arms negotiator, but was subjected to withering questioning by another Senate panel.
The Foreign Relations Committee voted 15 to 1 in favor of his nomination to head ACDA and by 14 to 2 approved him as arms negotiator with the Soviets.
Three floors below, senator after senator on the more hawkish Armed Services Committee assailed Warnke with demands to know when and why he had changed his mind on a range of disarmament issues.
Warnke, however, left the senators frustated, insisting that he has undergone no transformation. "My fundamental views have not changed," he said.
"I quit. I'm lost here," Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) rejoined in exasperation after citing past Warnke testimony that Jackson believes is widely different from the views Warnke has espoused since President Carter nominated him - and getting no agreement from Warnke.
The only sign of a retreat by Warnke during five hours of testimony came after questioning by Jackson and Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), who cited a 1972 debate with former Sen. James L. Buckley (Cons.-R-N.Y.) when Warnke said:
"Even substantial nuclear superiority, short of nuclear monopoly, could not be a decisive factor in any political confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union."
Warnke earlier yesterday had said that it was possible the Soviets were striving for nuclear superiority and, at another point in the hearing, that it was conceivable the Soviets would attempt to use superiority for political ends.
Warnke insisted that his 1972 remark was taken out od context and had been concerned only with the likelihood of an American President threatening nuclear war during a political confrontation with Moscow.
"It won't hold water" as an example of a change of mind, Warnke said.
However, after Nunn called the context "clear as a bell" and having to do with Soviet, not American, use of superiority, Warnke replied:
"I don't beleive that was what was said. It certainly was not my intent."
In addition to Jackson and Nunn, Sens. Harry F. Byrd Jr. (Ind.-Va.), John Tower (R-Tex.), Howard W. Cannon (D-Nev.), Dewey Bartlett (R-Okla.), Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), Robert Morgan (D-N.C.) and Jake Garn (R-Utah) expressed reservations about Warnke.
Garn said the nomination "scares me to death."
Chairman John C. Stennis (D-Miss.) struck perhaps the most worrying note of day for Warnke supporters when he expressed concern that Warnke's ample public writings and testimony on disarmament and weapons systems would hamper his effectiveness as a negotiator.
"I would anticipate no embarrasment on that at all," Warnke replied, saying he could think of nothing he had ever written that could be used against him as a negotiator.
Warnke forces are hoping that the influential chairman will decide to support Warnke for both posts.
Some opponents have suggested that Warnke be denied only the negotiator role.
Jackson and others said Warnke's past opposition to some U.S. strategic weapons systems might result in a too-ready willingness to bargain the systems away. Jackson listed 13 systems, not all strategic, that Warnke opposed in the past.
"I do now regret the position I took in regard to those systems," Warnke said. His opposition was based on beleif either that there was a better, more cost-effective system available or that a system's development was permature and could hamper arms control efforts, he said.
Armed Services questioning of Warnke continues today. Even though it has no jurisdiction over the nomination, the committee wanted to question him about his past statements.
In Foreign Relations, Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.) voted against Warnke for each post, on his last day as a temporary member of the committee. Sen. Robert P. Griffin (R-Mich.) opposed only the ambassadorial nomination.
Griffin was granted an unusual request for three days' time to write a minority report. Although formal reports are not usually submitted with nominations, Warnke's supporters said they would write a majority report to counter Griffin's negative views.