WASHINGTON — Despite some enthusiastic applause from Congress, President Reagan's speech to the nation Wednesday night failed to convince many members that he is capable of revitalizing his Administration in the wake of the Iran- contra scandal.
"One speech is not enough to rebuild trust," Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said, reflecting the views of many Democrats. "The old axiom that actions speak louder than words holds true."
Even Senate Republican leader Bob Dole of Kansas, who praised the speech as "the first big step along that comeback trail," acknowledged that the President has yet to demonstrate that he can reassert his leadership with Congress.
A Crucial Time
Without this leadership, Dole predicted, Republicans no longer would be able to sustain Reagan's vetoes at a crucial time when the Democratic-controlled Congress is planning to challenge the Administration on a wide variety of issues beyond the Iran controversy.
Besides investigating the details of the scandal, legislators are preparing to eliminate aid to the Nicaraguan rebels, enact arms control legislation unacceptable to the President and reorder the Administration's budget priorities.
"The next time the President vetoes a bill, we have got to be able to sustain that veto or someone's going to say: 'The first thing he sent to the Hill after that speech, the first veto was overridden by the Congress,' " Dole predicted. "So I would guess the White House is on notice that we've still got a lot of work to do."
A Three-Step Process
He noted that praise for the address would have been more enthusiastic among Republicans if the President had made it much earlier, before the controversy mushroomed to its enormous proportions.
Nevertheless, Dole described the speech as the first step in a three-step process that will revive Reagan's presidency.
In the second step, he said, the President will follow Wednesday night's "confession" with a flurry of personal activity, including a trip to Capitol Hill. The final step, Dole said, will be the submission to Congress of a wide variety of new Administration legislation, including a trade bill, welfare reform and catastrophic health-care insurance.
View of Democrats
But Democrats said Reagan will have to do more than that. "The President has to become involved," Byrd said. "He is going to have to change his work style. The President's management style is one of the things that got this Administration into trouble."
In its report on the Iran-contra scandal, the presidentially appointed commission headed by former Sen. John Tower (R-Tex.) criticized Reagan's hands-off policy management. The President himself acknowledged this in his speech, saying: "When it came to managing the NSC (National Security Council) staff, let's face it, my style didn't match its previous track record."
Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said that Reagan should fire all of the officials in the State Department, Defense Department and CIA who were in any way involved in the Iran-contra fiasco, though he mentioned no names.
"Of greater importance," Gephardt added, "it is time to have a policy in Central America that is true to our value and traditions. We need a policy that can stand the light of day and can be explained to our allies, our Congress and the American people."
According to Dole, the President's request for continued funding of the Nicaraguan rebels--$105 million in fiscal 1988--is likely to be defeated by Congress unless Reagan personally lobbies for it. "It's hanging in the balance," he said. "I would say right now it's a little less than 50-50."
Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Sacramento) said Reagan faces an enormous challenge because the appointment of former Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) as White House chief of staff has created "a euphoria" among members of Congress, who are expecting him to be the "de facto President--something I'm not sure that Ronald Reagan is ready to acknowledge."
Praise for Reagan
As for the President's address itself, most members of both parties praised Reagan for acknowledging responsibility. "Anybody who wasn't satisfied with what he said tonight is either a partisan or a churl," Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) said.
Perhaps the loudest praise came from Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.), who declared: "The Gipper has had some time in the penalty box, but now he's back on the ice. The speech revived, reactivated, rekindled, renewed, renovated and recharged the Reagan presidency."
On the other hand, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) was the most negative. "What the President has done is come out with window dressing," he declared.
Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) said he was disappointed that the President did not fully admit his mistakes. As the senator put it: "He never admitted that he should not have sold arms to Iran in the first place--an Iran that is responsible for worldwide terrorism, the kidnaping and killing of hostages, the death of hundreds of U.S. Marines and the humiliation of our country."