WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration and Senate Democrats squared off Saturday for the partisan battle that seems certain when senators vote on President Reagan's imperiled nomination of U.S. Appeals Judge Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court.
In his weekly radio talk, the President commended Bork's decision on Friday not to withdraw before the Senate votes, even though 53 of its 100 members have said they will vote against him. Meanwhile, presidential aides huddled at the White House to plan strategy for the Senate floor fight over Bork and the likely second round in the event Reagan must name another candidate.
An official who asked not to be named said the group discussed ways to counteract what Reagan called "distortions" during the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearings on Bork.
Reagan said nothing in the radio talk to add fuel to the already bitter dispute the nomination has generated with the Democratic-controlled Senate. But in an interview taped Friday with Cable News Network's televised "Newsmaker Saturday" program he assailed three Democratic senators who led the attack in the Judiciary Committee.
Reagan said the committee's chairman, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, joined Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum of Ohio in a "lynch mob assault on this nominee." Bork was "lied about" and "treated with distortions," he said. At the same time, Reagan agreed with a questioner that Senate votes are not there to confirm Bork's nomination.
In his radio talk, Reagan supplemented his praise for Bork's decision to stand firm with arguments for Bork's nomination. In what amounted to a preliminary broadcast debate, the negative side was presented by Sen. George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) in the regular Democratic response to the President's broadcast.
"I felt that in many ways we had already won an important victory," Reagan said in somber tones. "During his confirmation hearings, Judge Bork had given us all a national lesson in our legal tradition and the importance of judicial restraint . . . . "
Reagan said he agreed with Bork that "there are no illusions"--an apparent reference to the forbidding statistics on sentiment in the Senate--but he still urged his listeners: "Let's you and I give him our support."
On the other hand, Mitchell said that Bork's views had been demonstrated to be "inconsistent with two centuries of American constitutional law and the common understanding of the American people."
"For nearly a quarter of a century," Mitchell said, "Judge Bork has harshly attacked the Supreme Court. On the most difficult and divisive issues of our time--racial justice, personal privacy, one man-one vote, free speech--he has said that the court was wrong and he has heaped scorn and ridicule on its decisions."