WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leader and GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole endorsed the INF treaty today, giving President Reagan crucial support for ratification and reportedly infuriating Vice President George Bush and his supporters.
Dole appeared with Reagan in the White House press room, a golden photo opportunity for the presidential candidate, who had been accused of waffling on the treaty while Bush was leading the charge for it.
"I will lead the fight for its approval in the Senate," the Kansas senator pledged.
Reagan, who recounted the verification provisions of the intermediate-range nuclear forces pact, said he was "pleased" with Dole's decision. "I welcome the support of the Senate Republican leader and count on his efforts to help ensure Senate ratification."
Asked if he was being "dragged" into the GOP presidential contest, Reagan, standing off to one side of the podium while Dole spoke, replied, "No."
"I thought it was the courteous thing to do," Reagan said of his appearance with Dole, since he had sought the Republican Senate leader's support.
However some presidential aides said that Reagan was "dragged into it" and questioned the appearance of Reagan with a GOP presidential candidate on the White House stage. Reagan has said he is neutral and will support whomever the Republicans nominate.
Bush, while miffed at the White House forum his rival got, can claim credit, as one of his aides said, for "welcoming Dole aboard" the ratification bandwagon the vice president had been leading.
White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr. and his aide, Thomas Griscom, got the President to agree to meet Dole and appear publicly with him, it was learned. Baker and Griscom are old Senate colleagues of Dole, who succeeded Baker as GOP floor leader.
After he was apprised of the political implications, aides said that it was too late for Reagan to back off.
Asked about Bush and political implications, Dole said, "I don't want to get into a debate with George Bush. We just have different roles. . . . I have an active role. . . . He doesn't even get a vote."
Had Been Noncommittal
Until today, Dole had remained noncommittal on the treaty, saying his role as floor leader of Senate Republicans required him to give thoughtful study to the pact. According to sources, he decided to throw his support behind Reagan after talking to allied leaders.
The vice president's campaign staff in Iowa held a news conference Monday to criticize the senator for "straddling" the issue and to gloat over the defection of a Dole supporter, Ames Mayor Paul Goodland, to Bush's camp.
Bush has begun a series of commercials in Iowa saying: "There's only been one Republican candidate for President willing to take the lead in support of the Soviet-American summit and the INF treaty. That's George Bush, and here's why." The vice president then comes on camera to announce his reasons for supporting the treaty.