WASHINGTON — Release of the Tower Commission report Thursday brought demands from both parties in Congress that President Reagan change the hands-off approach to governing that has been the hallmark of his presidency.
Although there was no indication that Reagan broke the law, "colossal blunders were made," Senate Republican leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) said. He added that "we need to tighten things up at the White House. . . . Maybe the President isn't concerned enough" about the details of establishing his policies. "He's more of a conceptual leader."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) was more blunt, declaring: "For too long, on too many vital issues in foreign policy and national defense, we seem to have had a commander in chief who has been AWOL."
Lawmakers also laid blame on White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan, who has exercised control over almost every facet of White House operations, and many said it was time for him to resign.
"Mr. Regan should make it easier, if you will, on the President. . . . If I were in Mr. Regan's shoes, I would tender my resignation," Rep. Dick Cheney (R-Wyo.) said. In fact, Cheney, who now is the top-ranking Republican on the House panel investigating the Iran- contra affair, has been in those shoes, having served as White House chief of staff under former President Gerald R. Ford.
Cheney also warned that if the President fails to heed the recommendations of the commission to provide more effective leadership for his staff on important issues, "there is every reason to expect that the last two years of the Administration will be very unproductive and very frustrating, not only for the President but for those of us who support him."
However, others expressed doubt that Reagan could change a management style that has guided his political career--and that many say has been one of the cornerstones of his success. Where some former presidents have been accused of involving themselves too closely with the smallest details of White House operations, Reagan has relied instead on his instincts regarding the general directions of the nation's political sentiment.
At times, the President has acknowledged not keeping abreast of major aspects of his own policies. For example, he told the presidential commission, which was headed by former Sen. John Tower (R-Tex.), that he could not recall whether he authorized Israel's initial August, 1985, shipment of arms that set into motion the sale of U.S. arms to the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's regime in Iran.
"I don't know whether the President is capable of governing in a way where he knows what is happening and is directly responsible for key decisions and remembers those decisions," said Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), the Senate's second-ranking Democrat. Cranston added, however, that the President should at least take responsibility for hiring staff "who can execute his policies in a legal and constitutional way."
Move to Free Hostages
Even the President's defenders on Capitol Hill agreed that the report destroyed the Administration's claims that the arms sales were primarily an effort to reach out to Iranian moderates, rather than a move to free U.S. hostages held by factions sympathetic to the Tehran government.
"No doubt about it. They dealt arms for hostages. They can't any longer say they were trying to make contact with some moderate Iranian group," Dole said.
"It indicates (Reagan's) compassion outran his competence," said Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.).
Lawmakers said that Reagan's hands-off approach has created problems for the President on a variety of issues beyond the arms sales and diversions of profits to the contras.
Democrats complained that he has shown similar disinclination to become closely involved in arms control and in domestic issues, such as deficit reduction.