WASHINGTON — President Reagan today complained bitterly that the battle used to cripple the nomination of Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court was "an ugly spectacle marred by distortions and innuendoes and casting aside the normal rules of decency and honesty."
But Sen. Terry Sanford (D-N.C.), immediately firing back on behalf of Senate Democrats, said the President's confrontational approach "is not becoming to the constitutional process in which we are engaged."
Sanford said senators opposing Bork "are tired of having our integrity impugned. We are tired of having our sincerity questioned. We are tired of having our intelligence insulted."
In an address from the Oval Office that all three major networks declined to carry live rather than disrupt afternoon soap operas, Reagan said that if opponents are allowed to succeed in killing the Bork nomination, it will chill legal debate and endanger the independence of the judiciary.
Only One Network
Reagan's remarks and Sanford's rebuttal were carried live on television only by Cable News Network.
Reagan adopted a tough stance, saying that when he announced Bork's nomination July 1, he thought that the confirmation process would go forward "with a calm and sensible exchange of views.
"Unfortunately, the confirmation process became an ugly spectacle marred by distortions and innuendoes and casting aside the normal rules of decency and honesty," Reagan said.
Sanford responded that now that "Judge Bork's nomination appears doomed, we hear cries of 'lynch mobs' and 'distortions.' But it was not for political reasons that the nomination of Judge Bork was rejected. It's time for that corrosive dialogue to stop and time for profound respect for the constitutional process to begin."
Criticizing the major networks' decision to pass up Reagan's address, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that he was "very disturbed" by their action and that they were "shunning an important public responsibility."
Silent on Repercussions
Asked if there would be any repercussions, he said, "No comment."
Fitzwater said: "The American people deserve to hear their national leaders discuss an issue of such importance. Having devoted hours of broadcast time to the Senate hearing, they have suddenly gone blind to the President's address. That view of their public responsibility is sadly inadequate."
The speech followed a warning from Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) that harsh comments from the President could jeopardize his next nominee.
"It's not helpful," Byrd said after Reagan ridiculed the campaign waged against Bork as "a political joke" and said that any new nominee he picks will upset opponents "just as much."
Softens, Then Toughens
Reagan, in a series of appearances in New Jersey on Tuesday, softened his rhetoric about Bork's opponents in one speech but then turned up the heat in a later address when a woman at a Republican fund-raiser shouted, "We want Bork, too!"
"You want Bork, too? So do I," Reagan said in a resolute voice.
"Yes, Bork is staying in, and we know the odds are against getting enough people to turn around their vote," Reagan continued.
However, he said, "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."
Speaking over the applause of the audience, Reagan added: "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 for this one."