WASHINGTON — Conservative and liberal members of Congress were unabashedly enthusiastic Friday that President Reagan had named one of their own--former Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr.--as White House chief of staff.
Most members said they were especially grateful that Reagan had chosen a man with considerable political experience and a clear understanding of the way Congress works. Baker's predecessor, Donald T. Regan, was highly unpopular on Capitol Hill for what members viewed as his lack of political savvy and unfamiliarity with Congress.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), who had quarreled openly with Regan over the last several years, seemed particularly pleased by the turnover. "What brought (Regan) to this point is a lack of rough-and-tumble political experience," he said.
Benefit for Dole
Moreover, Dole, an unannounced candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, is expected to benefit personally from Baker's decision to drop out of the presidential sweepstakes and join the White House staff. He acknowledged that he expects some of Baker's supporters to turn to him now that their candidate is out of the race.
Even conservative Republicans such as Sens. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Steven D. Symms of Idaho, whose political views differ sharply from Baker's more moderate positions, seemed to be genuinely delighted by the news.
"His views and mine are different," Symms conceded. "But I think Sen. Baker is a good choice. By taking the job, Sen. Baker has made it clear that he will carry forward the President's agenda."
Hatch said Baker's experience as an administrator and leader in Congress ought to help the President in pursuing his own goals. "It's a hard job, as I think everyone will agree, but it's a job that Baker can do," he said.
Praise From Democrats
Liberal Democrats also praised Baker, apparently hoping that some of the former senator's views will rub off on the President. Liberals expressed the hope that the choice of Baker would be the first of many steps by Reagan to revive his Administration in the wake of the Iran- contra scandal.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) praised Baker as "an inspired choice" for chief of staff. "The first step on the road back is a good one," he said. "It would have taken Howard Baker about one second to veto the arms deal with Iran."
Sen. Bob Kasten (R-Wis.) described the choice of Baker as "a master stroke by the President" that would restore credibility to the Administration.
"This shows that the President is committed to acting quickly and firmly in reshaping his staff," Kasten said. "With Howard Baker on board, we're going to see a whole new approach at the White House and movement, I believe, in a positive direction."
Sees 'Silver Lining'
Sen. Dan Quayle (R-Ind.), a conservative, said he hoped that Baker could enable the President to put the Iran-contra affair behind him. "Today's news proves that there is indeed a silver lining in every cloud," Quayle said.
And Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), citing Baker's "legendary" legislative skills, called the appointment "great news."
Despite widespread criticism of Regan, Dole congratulated the former chief of staff for deciding to resign to allow the Administration to get a new start. "He went first class," Dole said.
Dole also said he assumed that Baker would bring in a number of other new White House appointees, making a clean sweep at the top of the President's staff. He said he hoped there would be "not just one new face."
Rep. William H. Gray III (D-Pa.) said the appointment of Baker would be "no cure-all" for an Administration that seems certain to be further embarrassed by new revelations in the Iran-contra scandal.
"Howard Baker faces a Herculean task in attempting to gain the attention of a President who has not concerned himself with the details of government," Gray said. "By himself he cannot restore the damage done by the Iran-contras affair. But his appointment cannot help but serve the interests of the nation."