The House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday brushed off last-minute appeals from President Reagan's arms controllers and approved, 27 to 9, a non-binding resolution calling on the United States and the Soviet Union to negotiate an "immediate, verifiable and mutual freeze" on nuclear weapons.
The freeze proposition, which Reagan has said would lock the United States into an inferior military position and undercut U.S. negotiators at the arms talks in Geneva, is expected to go to the House floor next week, and is thought likely to pass.
It then will go to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it is thought likely to die.
But even approval in the House--where the freeze last year failed, 204 to 202, but where Democrats since have gained 26 seats--would be a blow to the president and would hearten members seeking to cut the defense budget. "A repudiation of Reagatomics," pro-freeze Rep. Edward J. Markey Jr. (D-Mass.) called it yesterday.
The administration's continued opposition to the freeze was reflected in telegrams from Reagan's negotiators at Geneva, Gen. Edward Rowny and Paul Nitze. They were read at the start of the mark-up. The freeze resolution "would seriously undermine our ability to negotiate an equitable agreement with the Soviets," Nitze said.
The committee chairman, pro-freeze Rep. Clement J. Zablocki (D-Wis.), said the resolution was not "boat rocking" but a legitimate effort to influence administration policy on arms control.
The resolution, expressing the sense of Congress without requiring the president to take specific action, calls on the United States and the Soviet Union to pursue a complete halt to the nuclear arms race; decide when and how to achieve a mutual, verifiable freeze on testing, production, and further deployment of nuclear warheads, missiles and other delivery systems, and incorporate negotiations on intermediate-range nuclear missiles into the strategic arms talks.
As the committee voted, more than 4,000 anti-nuclear activists gathered at the West Front of the Capitol bearing signs reading "Ban the Bombs," "Presbyterians for Peace," "Corn in Our Silos, not Missiles." Their rally was part of a two-day effort to drum up support by the National Nuclear Freeze Campaign, which brought delegations here from 43 states.
"We must stop the arms race before it stops us," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) told the cheering crowd, adding that if the president does not "turn this arms control policy around, we're going to turn this administration out of office."
Meanwhile, a group of about 300, many of them wearing Veterans of Foreign Wars caps, attended an anti-freeze rally on the north side of the Capitol. Organized by the National Coalition for Peace Through Strength, it featured speeches by conservative minister the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sen. Jeremiah Denton (R-Ala.) and Rep. Mark D. Siljander (R-Mich.), who said he "had to sit and swallow all kinds of garbage in the committee" but "the people of this country won't stand for it."
In committee, Zablocki at first resisted an amendment declaring that the freeze should be "immediate," saying he could envision "two-track" negotiations involving reduction talks such as Reagan is pursuing and a simultaneous effort to achieve a freeze.
That interpretation, however, would contradict the freeze movement's insistence that both superpowers stop building nuclear weapons first, and then turn to reduction of existing arsenals.
The committee adopted a compromise drafted by Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.) saying that the "immediate" freeze should be "negotiated," meaning, Solarz said, that "it's not going to happen within 24 hours of passage of the resolution."
Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) said he had difficulty reconciling "immediate" with "negotiated, which can involve a long, drawn-out process," and compared the concept with that of being "a carnivorous vegetarian." At any rate, he added, the resolution is "politics, not policy."
All day, swarms of freeze advocates roamed the House and Senate office buildings. A tense confrontation took place when 1,000 members of the New York freeze campaign, who had been refused a meeting with Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.), protested silently by lining up outside the senator's office in the Hart building to sign his guest book and present, one by one, stacks of petitions signed by 280,188 pro-freeze New Yorkers.
Jan Orr-Harter, a minister with the West Park Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and head of the freeze campaign for 22 downstate congressional districts, said the group had been trying to meet for two months with D'Amato, who has supported the administration's anti-freeze position.
When he didn't appear at their meeting here, she said, they drew up a statement declaring that "as of today, support for an immediate, bilateral nuclear freeze is a requirement for public office in New York State."
A harried-looking D'Amato then showed up just as the crowd, having waited two hours outside his office, was breaking up to take buses back to New York.
"I'm concerned, I'm concerned," he told a knot of unhappy constituents in the lobby. "I just got off a plane from Albany. I'm not feeling well. I have a congested chest. But I'm willing to listen. I'll meet with you as soon as I can in New York."