The MX missile deployment plan recommended to President Reagan yesterday is sure to encounter political turbulence if launched but "has a chance" to make it through Congress, according to influential Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
"The president has got a hard road ahead of him to sell it," said Rep. Jack Edwards (R-Ala.), reflecting the prevailing congressional view on the MX advisory panel's recommendation to place 100 of the missiles in existing Minuteman silos while developing a smaller missile and continuing research on an anti-ballistic missile system.
"He's going to have to put on the full-court press and talk to a lot of members of the House and Senate personally," said Edwards, ranking Republican on the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense. Edwards was Reagan's point man in the House last year in the unsuccessful fight for MX production funding.
An aide said that House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), after receiving a telephone call from former president Gerald R. Ford, declared himself "open-minded" on the commission's basing scheme.
The panel's recommendations came after close consultation with influential lawmakers on military matters in the Senate and House. Two of these unofficial consultants, Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) and Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), sought to broaden support for the plan.
"It's a realistic package, but it's negotiable." Jackson said. "I see the House and Senate going for the MX, but I don't think 100 missiles is the final number."
Jackson, who is ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee and who has heard dozens of ideas for basing the MX, said one message implicit in the panel report "is a recognition that all land-based systems are vulnerable."
Aspin, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, pleaded for a bipartisan solution such as that reached on Social Security funding.
"This is a straight-out political compromise," he said. "There's no good way to base the MX, so you might as well stick 'em into the old Minuteman holes as a short-term solution. It's a pretty good idea. It's time we settled the damn issue. It doesn't help our relationship with the allies or with the Soviets to keep changing our mind."
The report is "well done," said Rep. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.), a House moderate influential on arms control issues. "The need for bipartisan consensus is obvious," he said.
The president must redraft his arms reductions proposals to relieve fears that the United States or Soviet Union might launch surprise attacks, Gore added.
A veteran House staff member, surveying opinion on the report of the panel, chaired by retired Air Force Gen. Brent Scowcroft, said last night, "It's got a chance. People like Gore would be willing to go along with MX as long as it gets them to the small, single-warhead missile which they see as stabilizing."
Other congressional leaders on national security issues, including Sen. John G. Tower (R-Tex.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), one of its most influential members, withheld comment on the recommendations until they study them in detail and learn whether the president would embrace them. Reagan is expected to make that judgment next week.
Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.) voiced some of the doubts Reagan must overcome to win support of GOP moderates. Chafee said he is impressed with the need to continue plans for the MX to gain leverage at arms control negotiations but is worried not only about the MX's first-strike potential but how the United States and Soviet Union could track each other's small missiles if they were deployed around the countryside.
"This adds a destabilizing element," Chafee said of the verification problem.
The commission recommendations were denounced as going "back to square one" by Sen. J. James Exon (D-Neb.) of the Armed Services Committee, whose remarks were echoed by fellow committee member Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Joseph P. Addabbo (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, who led last year's fight to delete MX production money.
"There's a considerable degree of contradiction in putting 100 MX missiles in Minuteman silos and then saying you have to build a new missile," Exon said. "You're really saying this missile is obsolete."
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) had the harshest words of all for the panel's recommendations:
"Previous MX deployment schemes ranged from absurd to inane. This proposal is nothing less than mad. If the commission's recommendations are adopted, we might as well also announce that America has adopted a first-strike nuclear strategy."