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Nominee's Chances Appear Grim : Reagan Says He Won't Retract Bork's Name

October 05, 1987|DAVID LAUTER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Reagan will not withdraw the embattled Supreme Court nomination of Robert H. Bork even if the Senate Judiciary Committee votes against the nominee, a leading pro-Bork senator said Sunday.

But Reagan's prospects for victory appear grim: 50 senators--one fewer than necessary to defeat the nomination--are now either leaning against Bork or already publicly committed to vote no, according to leading independent and anti-Bork vote counters. The pro-Bork vote--leaning and committed--is just under 40, the counts indicate.

In the event of a 50-50 tie in the Senate, Vice President George Bush would cast the deciding vote in Bork's favor.

Few Senators Undecided

Fewer than a dozen senators remain undecided on the nomination, and Reagan will now have to win all of them or else turn around votes that now seem to be heading against him, if Bork is to become a high court justice.

Reagan will try over the next two weeks to accomplish that. "You'll see something every day," White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said as the President returned Sunday to Washington after a weekend at Camp David, Md.

Fitzwater said the Administration has scheduled a full week of activities to keep the nomination battle at the top of Reagan's agenda. Among those events will be personal calls to senators urging them to support Bork and speeches designed to rally support for the nominee. In the speeches, Reagan will continue to attack Bork's opponents as liberal "special interests" and try to rouse conservative supporters by arguing that the nominee would be tough on crime.

Asked by reporters as he returned from Camp David whether Bork's chances of confirmation have reached zero, Reagan replied, simply: "No."

"I'm going to continue with his nomination," the President said when asked whether he was considering withdrawing Bork's name from Senate consideration.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), expanding on that theme during NBC's "Meet the Press" program, said: "The President has authorized me to say . . . that he is going to press this through to conclusion, to a vote on the Senate floor." That promise will hold even if the Judiciary panel rejects the nomination when it votes on Bork on Tuesday, Hatch said.

The effort to save the nomination, however, has now put Administration strategists in a bind--every day spent on Bork is one less day available to get a replacement nomination approved this year should Bork lose. Many strategists in the anti-Bork effort would like to see the current Supreme Court vacancy remain unfilled until 1988, figuring that Reagan would then have to pick a moderate nominee to win confirmation in an election year.

27 Votes Against Bork

In the Senate, according to an Associated Press survey of all 100 senators, 27 votes were formally committed against Bork as of Sunday--25 Democrats and two Republicans. Private vote counts show another 23 senators, including most of the chamber's remaining Democrats and a handful of moderate Republicans, likely to vote against the nomination. Most of the chamber's Republicans and two Democrats--32 senators in all--have announced in Bork's favor, but only seven or eight more unannounced votes currently are counted as likely to go Bork's way.

Administration officials hope that Reagan's appeals will be particularly effective with undecided Republicans like John H. Chafee of Rhode Island and John Heinz of Pennsylvania. But one sign of the nomination's dwindling chances is that leaders in the effort against Bork have now begun to talk of getting votes from Republicans, like conservative New Yorker Alfonse M. D'Amato, who previously had been counted in the pro-Bork column.

Another sign of trouble is the amount of talk in the Senate about who the next nominee might be. Patrick E. Higgenbotham, an Alabama native who currently sits on the federal appeals court in Texas, is the most often mentioned candidate.

What may be the final week of events in the Bork debate will begin today, when Judiciary Committee member Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), announces his position, which is expected to be against Bork. DeConcini would bring to seven the number of committee members opposing Bork. Five of the committee's 14 members support Bork, two more are undecided.

One of those remaining undecided members, Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.) said on "Meet the Press" that he "probably will" take a definite position on the nomination when the committee votes. The vote, he said, "is what you might call a 'plank walker'. . . . You walk to the end of the plank to take off your blindfolders, and you see a bunch of barracudas on one side and swarming sharks on the other."

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