South Dakota Sen. Larry Pressler was misidentified as a Democrat in yesterday's editions. He is a Republican. (Published 12/6/ 87)
Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) angrily told President Reagan yesterday he resented the president's statement that those who oppose the treaty to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles accept the inevitability of war between the superpowers as conservatives erupted in outrage at Reagan's remark.
At a White House meeting with the president, Dole said he was resentful that Reagan had described as expecting war those who are asking questions or want to amend the treaty, according to a White House official. Later, Dole, who is expected to support the treaty with some changes, sent Reagan a letter saying the treaty "is not a test of loyalty to our party or to you, as some have tried to portray it."
Conservative activists were even more bitter in their reaction to Reagan's statement in an interview with network anchors that people opposing the treaty "basically down in their deepest thoughts have accepted that war is inevitable and that there must come to be a war between the superpowers."
Howard Phillips, president of the Conservative Caucus, said Reagan was a "useful idiot for Soviet propaganda." Richard Viguerie, a conservative fund-raiser, said Reagan had become an "apologist for Gorbachev."
Campaigning in Iowa, Vice President Bush brushed off the Phillips attack. "I don't have respect for anybody who on the eve of a summit meeting would make a shrill attack on our president," he said. "These people . . . are just as wrong as they can be on this as on many other things."
Presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater responded, "They never supported Ronald Reagan, and they don't today." But Fitzwater said Reagan was not referring to Dole and other senators when he made the comment.
Reagan's comments sparked angry retorts in the Senate, where hearings are scheduled to begin next month on the treaty Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev are to sign Tuesday on the opening day of their summit here. The treaty would eliminate medium-range and shorter-range nuclear missiles in Europe.
"What I'm going to do is pull out some of the president's own speeches on arms control and read them back to him," Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), said tersely. As for Reagan's claim that conservatives did not understand the treaty verification provisions, Helms said, "He doesn't know what was in the treaty either."
Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.) said, "Almost as offensive as his calling us warmongers was his apology for the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan." Wallop was referring to Reagan's remark that the invasion of Afghanistan happened before Gorbachev came to power and "he inherited that."
Wallop said Reagan's criticism will make it harder, not easier, for conservatives to support the treaty. "Clearly he increases rather than mollifies the skepticism" that conservatives have about the treaty, Wallop said. Wallop also said, "What an appalling charge for the president of the United States to make . . . . Where is this president's knowledge of the Constitution . . . ? This Senate has a role.
"This senator does not see the inevitability of war," he added, "and that is why I dare question what might be in this treaty . . . . Clearly we are entitled to see it and see answers about it before we are required to rubber-stamp it."
In what appeared to be something less than an expression of confidence, he said, "My prayers are with Ronald Reagan with this summit. But they are prayers for my country."
Sen. Dan Quayle (R-Ind.) said, "I'll have to be honest that I was particularly appalled by the rhetoric last night, by the president of the United States, directed to those who would raise concerns about this treaty . . . . I believe it will be very, very counterproductive to resort to this kind of rhetoric."
Sen. Larry Pressler (D-S.D.) announced that he opposes the treaty out of concern over possible Soviet violations. His announcement prompted Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) to observe, "The strongest support will come from Democrats in the Senate. The bitterest opposition will come from the president's own party."
Presidential candidate Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), one of the strongest opponents of the treaty, said in New Hampshire that Reagan "wasn't speaking of me" in his remarks. "I believe in the inevitability of peace."
Most Democrats were noncommittal, but Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) said "several things I would have preferred he refer to in a different way," including the occupation of Afghanistan.
In his letter, Dole said a final text of the treaty has not yet been made available to the Senate because negotiations are continuing this weekend in Geneva. Dole said senators are being "reasonable" and "prudent" in withholding judgment until the text is available.