House Republicans voiced support yesterday for the disclosure of top-secret information regarding Nicaragua as part of a Reagan administration campaign to win congressional support for a $100 million military and economic aid package to the Nicaraguan rebels who are fighting the Sandinista government.
President Reagan received the support and a warm reception during an appearance yesterday before the House GOP Conference at the Capitol Hill Club.
The Reagan visit, according to participants in the meeting, largely amounted to a pep talk about his legislative agenda. It was also something of a fence-mending expedition designed to avert a repetition of last year's brief revolt by the House Republicans when they threatened to block passage of the president's tax legislation.
On Thursday, the White House announced it will make public Monday a declassified version of a document that allegedly outlines a "disinformation campaign" by Nicaragua to influence Congress and the U.S. news media in the legislative battle over the aid package.
This drew sharp criticism from Sen. David F. Durenberger (R-Minn.), the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who described the White House plan as an "outrageous" attempt by the administration to label every foe of the aid package as "a stooge of communism."
But House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) said at a news conference following the Reagan appearance on Capitol Hill yesterday that he could not "see any justification for keeping it the document under wraps."
Referring to the communist government of Cuba, Michel added, "How long will it be before we come to the conclusion that we have another communist bastion on ourdoorstep? For future generations, we ought to be doing more than tolerating another one."
Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill,), a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said that during a question and answer session with Reagan one House member suggested that the administration also make public classified satellite photographs to support its charge of a huge, Soviet-supplied military buildup by the Sandinista government.
Hyde said Reagan did not commit himself but noted that next week he plans to give a nationally televised speech on his defense program, including the Nicaraguan aid package.
"I think he got the message," Hyde said.
The expressions of House Republican support were clearly good news to the administration as it approaches what is expected to be its toughest foreign policy fight in Congress this year. The White House, possibly as early as next week, is expected formally to ask Congress for $70 million in covert military assistance and $30 million in overt humanitarian aid to the Nicaraguan rebels, also known as counterrevolutionaries, or contras.
At the news conference, Michel reiterated his call for the $100 million in aid to be "reprogrammed" from other foreign aid accounts and not come in the form of a request for the appropriation of new funds. He said he expects the administration to adopt this approach.
Given budget constraints and the new Gramm-Rudman-Hollings balanced-budget law, such a tactic should improve the prospects of the aid package, Michel said.
Michel also said Reagan emphasized that he attaches importance to House Republicans and eventual GOP control of the House. He said the president was reminded that House Republicans face several tough campaigns next fall, particularly in Texas and North Carolina, where the Democrats have targeted seats held by GOP freshmen.
Asked if he expects Reagan to campaign in the fall for endangered GOP House members, Michel said, "That's the message I got."