WASHINGTON — President Reagan, declaring Senate confirmation of Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court to be the most important domestic issue his Administration faces, said Tuesday that the nominee "has come under attack for being some kind of a right-wing ideologue."
On his first full day at work in the White House after spending nearly four weeks on vacation in California, the President outlined the tasks of his remaining 16 months in office, telling Cabinet members and other senior officials in a speech that each new job must be treated "with the same sense of urgency that we first brought to Washington back in 1981."
To Reagan's senior advisers, the next 45 to 60 days are crucial in determining the success of his presidency's final months. They believe that a victory in the battle over the Bork nomination would help create an upbeat tenor--partly offsetting the tumble Reagan took in public polls as a result of the Iran- contra affair--that could carry over into other areas.
With Congress returning to Washington today after its own summer break, White House officials are anxious to measure the mood of the House and Senate not only on the Bork nomination but on such issues as the fiscal 1988 budget, trade legislation and aid to the U.S.-supported guerrillas trying to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
In the first three or four days after Congress resumes its work, one senior White House official said, the President's aides hope to get a "good reading" of the degree of support Reagan can expect.
The confirmation of Bork has become a central focus of the White House, and Reagan said that the Administration faces "no more important task" than winning this battle. Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination begin next Tuesday.
"I'm convinced that in the end he will be confirmed," Reagan said. But, he added, "there's no denying that it's going to be a tough fight."
A spokesman for Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), the assistant Senate Democratic leader, said Tuesday that the senator's latest survey showed 46 senators opposing or leaning against Bork, 45 favoring or leaning toward confirmation and 9 undecided. A count taken shortly after Reagan nominated Bork was 45-45-10.
Bork, a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, has been sharply criticized by organized labor, civil rights activists and women's rights groups. To counter this opposition, the Administration has sought to portray him as a representative of mainstream judicial thought.
"Judge Bork believes in judicial restraint and this means reading laws in the way intended by elected officials . . . and not reshaping them according to judicial whim," Reagan said.
The President also criticized what he portrayed as congressional inaction on the fiscal 1988 budget, which takes effect Oct. 1, describing it as a process characterized by "delay after delay, missed deadline after missed deadline, a process that's not reliable or credible."
No major budget bills have been passed this year. Reagan and the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate have disagreed heatedly over the priorities in the $1-trillion spending plan.
"Neither side is ready to give up," a senior White House official said, indicating the likelihood of a "stalemate for a while."
Reagan said that his foreign policy priorities include "peace and democracy throughout Central America, and especially in Nicaragua."
"Let's be clear about one thing: We will not abandon our friends in Nicaragua," he said, referring to the contras and addressing doubts raised by conservatives about whether the United States will continue to support the rebels in the face of two peace proposals that could cut off financial assistance.
"They will be able to count on our continuing assistance until Nicaragua is a genuine democracy," the President said.