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Invitation for Gorbachev Not Its Idea: White House

November 20, 1987|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The White House today denied that it was the Administration's idea in the first place to ask Soviet Mikhail S. Gorbachev to become the first Communist Party head to address a joint meeting of Congress.

Faced with a GOP revolt, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said, "We think there probably is a better forum" for Gorbachev than a joint meeting. Some lawmakers have threatened to stage a noisy walkout if Gorbachev appears.

Fitzwater flatly denied that the White House ever asked Congress for a joint meeting for the Soviet leader.

But aides to House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) said "a White House liaison officer" had requested that Gorbachev be invited to address a joint meeting of Congress, and that Wright and Senate Majority leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) had set the time for 10 a.m. on Dec. 9.

"A request for a visit by a leader is made by the White House and then the Speaker and the majority leader come up with the time when it would be best to do this," said Charmayne Marsh, Wright's spokeswoman.

Byrd Endorses Idea

An aide to Byrd said the majority leader endorsed the idea in a meeting last Friday with the Soviet ambassador to Washington, Yuri Dubinin.

Three congressional sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the idea was discussed without any apparent objections Tuesday at a breakfast meeting attended by Wright, Byrd, White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr., Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III and James C. Miller III, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Some Democrats said the dispute is between the White House and the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

"If they don't want Mr. Gorbachev here, all they have to do is pick up the telephone and say, 'We don't want it,' " said another Wright aide, Wilson Morris.

"Really, it's a fight between the President and his own party. When they settle it, they can let us know. There is no reason to point fingers."

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