WASHINGTON — Judge Anthony M. Kennedy's selection to the Supreme Court appeared all but certain today but White House officials went to unusual lengths to guard against the failures that brought down President Reagan's previous two choices.
Administration officials arranged courtesy calls with leading senators for Kennedy amid Republican bickering over the defeat of Robert H. Bork and the withdrawal of Douglas H. Ginsburg.
In a Senate speech, moderate Republican Sen. William S. Cohen of Maine compared conservatives' criticism of White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr. to a mugging "on the back stairs of the White House."
Reagan met for half an hour Monday evening at the presidential residence with Kennedy, a federal appellate judge from Sacramento, spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said. A nomination announcement will be forthcoming before the end of the week, he said.
A face-to-face session with the President is customarily the final step before such an announcement. But Fitzwater said it had been agreed that "more consultations would take place" first, particularly with members of Congress.
"A lot of members of the Senate have asked to talk to (Kennedy), have expressed their views for or against prior to his nomination, and in many of those cases we think it's appropriate he talk it over with them," Fitzwater said.
Kennedy, 51, was accompanied to the White House by Baker and Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III, two top advisers who reportedly have disagreed over strategy and nominees for the seat that has remained vacant for more than four months.
Meese and other conservatives are widely reported to have persuaded Reagan two weeks ago to select Ginsburg for the court seat after the Senate voted down Bork.
Baker is said to have favored Kennedy, and he has been accused by conservatives of undermining Ginsburg when an uproar followed Ginsburg's admission that he smoked marijuana in the 1960s and 1970s.
Today, Cohen said: "The truth is that Howard Baker was shoved overboard by the ideologically pure because he was recommending a 'confirmable conservative.' That phrase suggested compromise or, worse, appeasement."
But the Maine senator said that after the marijuana disclosure, it "was a group of conservatives who gathered on the floor and came to the conclusion that Judge Ginsburg had to go, not any liberals or not any moderates."
Cohen contended that if Baker had urged Reagan to fight for Ginsburg "to the very end, and then the vote was lost sometime in later December or early next year, his critics would have then blamed him for not advising the President to cut his losses more quickly."