WHIPPANY, N.J. — A defiant President Reagan declared today that if Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork is defeated in the Senate, as expected, he'll try to find a new nominee "that they object to just as much."
In a speech earlier in the day, Reagan accused Bork opponents of "distortions and innuendoes" but dropped harsher wording that had been included in an earlier version of his speech.
And he didn't even mention Bork in the formal remarks he delivered in Whippany to the New Jersey Republican State Central Committee.
However, after the speech a woman called out, "We want Bork," and Reagan rose to her words.
"You want Bork too?" Reagan said. "So do I."
He then ad-libbed to the audience that Bork will stay in the fight even though "we know the odds are against him. What's at issue here is not one man and what happened to him. What's at issue is that we make sure that the process of appointing and confirming judges never again is turned into such a political joke.
'Smears and Lies'
"And if I have to appoint another one, I'll try to find one that they'll object to just as much as they did" to Bork, Reagan said to applause from the audience.
Earlier, in Somerset, N.J., Reagan had dropped language from a speech that accused Bork's opponents of waging a "sophisticated campaign of smears and lies."
Instead, Reagan said the confirmation hearings had been "marred by distortions and innuendoes."
The White House, meanwhile, asked the broadcast networks for air time Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. PDT for a brief presidential address on the Bork battle.
ABC said it will not interrupt scheduled programming to televise Reagan's speech but will cover it "in our regular newscasts." CBS said it was leaning against a live telecast. There was no immediate word from NBC.
'No Illusions' About Vote
Reagan, in his revised remarks, said, "Judge Bork and I agree that there are no illusions about the outcome of the vote in the Senate but we also agree a crucial principle is at stake."
The President said the principle at stake "is the process that is used to determine the fitness of those men and women selected to serve on our courts."
The revised remarks, altering the final four paragraphs of Reagan's speech as they were handed out earlier in the day, were distributed at the White House as Reagan flew here for the early afternoon speech to the state's Chamber of Commerce.
One item dropped from Reagan's speech was the President's recollection of the movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" in which Jimmy Stewart, playing a senator, said the only causes worth fighting for were the lost causes.
Quoting Stewart's character, Reagan's text said, "'I'm going to stay right here and fight for this lost cause even if this room (the Senate) is filled with lies . . . and the (special interests) come marching into this place.
"So will I," Reagan's initial text declared.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the initial Reagan text had been rewritten to reflect Bork's own desire for a less strident debate.
Earlier Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd suggested to reporters that Reagan's public statements are not helping the apparently doomed nomination.
"With the President speaking out now on it, it just politicizes the nomination more," Byrd told reporters.
Meanwhile, Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada, announced his opposition to confirming Bork, becoming the 54th senator to do so in the 100-member body.