Ronald Reagan swept through the corridors of Capitol Hill yesterday, endorsing a pending bill to keep the Justice Department from filing school busing lawsuits, but devoting most of his triumphal tour to touching base with old friends and making new ones.
Reagan's visit on his first day in Washington as president-elect was designed to draw a contrast between his forthcoming administration and the outgoing Carter White House, often criticized on Capitol Hill for failing to consult Congress.
President Carter avoided the egostroking and backslapping of politics on Capitol Hill, but Reagan's message was that he could and would take the time to share with congressional leaders -- Democrats as well as Republicans -- the spotlight that inevitably follows the president.
Reagan brought his running mate, George Bush, and the men who will be his top two White House aides, Edwin Meese III and James A. Baker III, with him as he called on the Republican and Democratic leadership of both houses.
"What we would like to do is to resume a relationship based on regular and rather frequent meetings in a bipartisan manner with the leadership of the House and Senate with regard to the programs we think must be done," Reagan said.
"In other words, we're not going to just throw surprises up here at the Hill," he said. Judging from the early returns, Reagan's visit was a hit. The Republican audience has been applauding ever since Nov. 4, but even House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) had some kind words. "I liked him very much," O'Neill said of Reagan, whom he had never met. "I got along with [Reagan's] staff better than I did with the Carter staff at my first meeting."
Reagan interrupted his series of closed-door meetings and smiling, waving but nonspeaking trips through the Capitol's halls for a brief news conference outside the office of Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.).
Reagan was asked about a rider to the Justice Department appropriations bill that would bar the department from filing lawsuits or taking other actions to require busing for racial integration of public schools.
Reagan, who has long opposed busing, said, "Busing has been a failure." He added, "So, therefore, I think there are better ways to achieve the ends then by continuing this program."
Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti has urged Carter to veto the bill, as have a number of black leaders.
"I want everyone to understand that I am heart and soul in favor of the things that have been done under the name of civil rights, desegregation and so forth," Reagan said in a preface to his words of support for the provision. s
Reagan was greeted at the Capitol by Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.), who is to become majority leader in the Republican-controlled Senate that will convene in January.
Reagan, Bush and their aides met for 50 minutes in Baker's office with James Baker, Reagan's close associate, Sen. Paul D. Laxalt (R-Nev.) and Republican Sens. John G. Tower (Tex.), H. John Heinz (Pa.), Milton R. Young (N.D.), Jake Garn (utah), Bob Packwood (Ore.) and Ted Stevens (Alaska).
Reporters who were admitted for a few minutes asked Reagan and Tower whether the Texan will be nominated for secretary of defense. Neither replied. At his news conference, Reagan said no Cabinet selections had been made, and added that he had not received the recommendations of his aides. A circle of close friends -- sometimes called Reagan's "kitchen cabinet" -- meeting in Los Angeles yesterday was preparing to send its recommendations to Reagan.
"The president-elect intends to end the isolation of the present administration from Capitol Hill," Baker said after the meeting in his office. He set up a second short meeting later at which Reagan shook hands with other members of the soon-to-be Senate majority.
The Rotunda was packed with visitors and reporters as Reagan marched through on his way to House Minority Leader John J. Rhodes' (R-Ariz.) office. Reagan acknowledged shouts and applause with a smile and a wave.
He stopped briefly to have his picture taken with C. L. Dellums, LeRoy Richie and about six other members of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a predominantly black union. Dellums, an uncle of Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.), and the others are in town for a Smithsonian documentary project about their union.
Reagan then went to O'Neill's office, where he won the speaker's promise to cooperate in efforts to turn the economy around. O'Neill also said the Democrats would hold any criticism in abeyance for six months. "We're not going to come out slugging. We'll be more than fair and lean over backwards," O'Neill said.
Trailing aides, security men and journalists, Reagan crossed back to the Senate side of the Capitol to meet with Byrd and Democratic Sens. Daniel K. Inouye (Hawaii) and Alan Cranston (Calif.).
Bush, a former CIA director, and Inouye, the first chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, discussed attitudes toward intelligence and national security.
Reagan said he had found a copper wire stappled under the dining room table at the government-owned townhouse on Jackson Place NW, where he is staying this week. He said it wasn't connected to anything, but "I wondered what that was doing stapled to the bottom of a table." The others with Reagan laughed. Then the reporters were ushered out of the room.
Byrd promised cooperation by the Democratic Senate minority: "We . . . will be cooperative. We will offer our assistance. We certainly want to see the new president and the new administration succeed." Byrd said that though there will be times of disagreement, we will "disagree constructively."
Reagan ended his string of visits with a demonstration that he remembered those who have helped him. He stopped at the Teamsters union headquarters to chat with President Frank Fitzsimmons and other officers of the first -- and largest -- union to endorse Reagan. A visit by a president-elect was a welcome note in the troubled Teamster history. "When was the last time a president came to that boardroom?" one participant asked.
Before visiting the Teamsters, Reagan and Bush posed on the steps of the Capitol for a throng of photographers, giving victory waves, with the famous dome that previous presidents have sought to conquer rising behind them. f