At least 75 House members, mostly Republicans, signed a letter yesterday protesting a White House proposal that Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev become the first communist leader to address a joint meeting of Congress.
A morning session of the House Republican Conference turned into a "one hell of a donnybrook" over the request that Gorbachev be invited to address Congress on Dec. 9 during the Washington summit, said Rep. Robert Dornan (R-Calif.).
Rep. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) was seeking an explanation from the White House, an aide said.
Rep. Dick Cheney (R-Wyo.) said, "Most Republican members feel very strongly that the invitation to speak to a joint session is a high honor that should not be extended to the head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union."
Cheney, chairman of the House Republican Conference, the GOP caucus, said he had expressed his displeasure to White House officials and to Secretary of State George P. Shultz, but the administration showed no sign of backing down.
House Republican leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) was working to defuse a situation viewed as embarassing to the White House, according to a Republican lawmaker who asked not to be identified.
It was not clear whether opponents of the visit could muster the legislative support to block an appearance by Gorbachev, but the uproar might cause the White House to seek a compromise. The congressional parliamentarian said Tuesday that unanimous consent was required in the House for a joint meeting, but that no action was needed by the Senate.
House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.), whose office announced the invitation on Tuesday, criticized conservatives who want to block or protest it.