WASHINGTON — President Reagan, fresh from vacation but weakened by scandal, said today that winning Senate approval of Robert H. Bork as Supreme Court associate justice was his top priority as he entered his last 16 months in office.
He said he is convinced that the conservative judge will be confirmed although it will be a tough fight.
Reagan was giving a White House pep talk to his top officials in his first public appearance in Washington since he returned on Sunday from a 25-day California vacation.
The President made no direct reference to the scandal over secret U.S. arms sales to Iran, which has scarred him politically as he prepares for new battles with Congress.
But he told the officials, "I know these past few months haven't been easy--believe me, I know."
He added: "And maybe the worst of it has been that at times it seemed as though events were simply happening to us. As one wit has defined history, it's just one darned thing after another."
However, he sounded a defiant note as he renewed his attacks on Congress over spending and the budget and praised Bork's record.
In domestic policy, "we face . . . no more important task . . . than securing the confirmation to the Supreme Court of Judge Robert Bork," Reagan said. The judge has been under heavy attack by liberals who fear his confirmation would give the Supreme Court a conservative slant for years to come.
Reagan said charges that Bork was a right-wing ideologue were wrong and called him superbly qualified.
"I'm convinced that in the end he will be confirmed, but there's no denying it's going to be a tough fight," Reagan said.
He concluded his 13-minute speech with what he called "a little Irish blessing."
"May those who love us, love us. And those who don't love us, may God turn their hearts. And if he doesn't turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles so we'll know them by their limping."
Senate Evenly Divided
With the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings set to begin Sept. 15, the Senate is evenly divided on the nomination, according to the office of Assistant Senate Democratic leader Alan Cranston.
Cranston's spokesman said the latest head count, made public today, showed 46 opposing or leaning against Bork, 45 favoring or leaning toward confirmation and 9 undecided. The original count, taken shortly after Reagan nominated Bork, was 45-45-10.
Reagan on contras' future, Page 2.