WASHINGTON — President Reagan, meeting with Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork, vowed Wednesday to forge ahead with efforts to win his Senate confirmation, but other Republican supporters said that they believe Bork is wavering in the face of near-certain defeat and could withdraw as early as today.
"The President was very strong about staying with it, fighting it on out," said a senior White House official after Reagan met for 25 minutes with Bork, Vice President George Bush, Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III and White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr.
"The judge listened," the official said. "The judge has not made a final decision."
Tom Korologos, the chief Republican lobbyist, conceded that any mathematical chance that the Senate might yet confirm Bork had all but disappeared after 10 more senators came out against him Wednesday. The 10, all Democrats, consisted of three who had been undecided and seven who had been thought to be leaning against Bork.
48 Declared Opponents
This raised to 48 the number of senators who have declared their opposition to confirmation, with nine others leaning against it, according to a Times count.
Bork opponents said that they are concentrating on getting 51 firm votes to prove to Reagan and Bork that they have no chance.
At the same time, however, Korologos, who attended a "sincere, honest-to-God rally" for Bork in the office of Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), said that the pep session had a "salutary effect" on the nominee. "He has to think twice about what his decision will be." During the event, 16 senators cheered and shouted: "Don't quit!"
As he pondered his course the day after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to recommend his rejection, Bork was left to choose between withdrawing, to spare himself the ordeal of a prolonged, apparently doomed, campaign, and pressing on, to force his opponents to cast recorded votes against him that would create a potential political issue for the 1988 election.
Although the White House advocates the latter strategy, Bork is "not a guy who is going to be used," one source said.
Talking to Wife
Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), who attended the surprise rally and escorted the nominee and his wife, Mary Ellen, to their car outside the Capitol, said: "He wanted to think about it. He wanted to talk to his wife and talk to his children."
A longtime acquaintance of Bork, who would speak only anonymously, noted that the nominee is "a scrapper who takes pride in having been a Marine and would revel in coming back from odds as long as these. But he's also able to step back and detach himself for a realistic look" at the prospects.
One source said that Bork's decision is expected today.
The 10 announcing their opposition Wednesday included seven Southern senators, a regional group that had represented the Administration's best chance for winning Democratic support. They are Sens. John B. Breaux of Louisiana, Lawton Chiles and Bob Graham of Florida, Wyche Fowler Jr. of Georgia, Albert Gore Jr. and Jim Sasser of Tennessee and Richard C. Shelby of Alabama. The other three are Sens. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Alan J. Dixon of Illinois and J. James Exon of Nebraska.
"Judge Bork does not understand the Constitution," Gore, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, declared. "He says he would interpret the Constitution exactly as the framers would have, 200 years ago. But, 200 years ago black people were property and women couldn't vote . . . . Not only have we added amendments to our Constitution, we have changed the context in which it should be read."
Fowler said he rejected Bork's "particular form of strict construction" in interpreting the Constitution. "It has prevented hard facts--the actual injustices, hardships, discrimination miseries and oppression experienced by real people in an imperfect society--from penetrating the world of pure theory."
Cites Watergate Role
Conrad, listing his reasons for opposing confirmation, cited Bork's actions as solicitor general in 1973 in firing Watergate special prosecutor Archibald G. Cox on orders of then-President Richard M. Nixon.
"In my view, Robert Bork did not rise to the challenge of restoring public confidence in the rule of law . . . " Conrad said. "As a top law enforcement officer, he acted in a way that could have allowed massive abuse of presidential power to go unchecked."
Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), who had been listed as leaning toward Bork, announced that he would vote for confirmation. This raised to 33 the number of senators committed to voting for him, with nine others leaning in that direction. Only one senator, Harry Reid (D-Nev.), is considered still undecided.
With the battle apparently nearing a climax, recriminations were begining Wednesday, indicating that the Bork issue could damage GOP harmony during next year's election campaign.