Contra Aid Vote Will Be Close in House
White House Claims Public Supports $100M Package for Rebels
WASHINGTON--Supporters and foes of giving $100 million to Nicaraguan rebels claimed yesterday that public support is running in their favor, but conceded that a crucial House vote later in the week will be close.
After special envoy Philip Habib maintained that President Reagan's proposal has strong support among Central American officials, the White House said calls and wires had shown that by a better than 2-1 margin, people were responding positively to Reagan's nationally broadcast Sunday night appeal for support for the aid program.
On Capitol Hill, however, House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) said calls and telegrams to his office were showing public resistance to Reagan's request to send money to the Contras fighting the Sandinista government in Managua.
But Vice President George Bush, appearing on NBC's "Today" show, said, "I think we're going to win. It's going to be close," but "I really honestly feel we can" win.
The Democratic-controlled House is scheduled to vote Thursday afternoon on Reagan's program, which includes $30 million for non-lethal items like medicine and clothing, and $70 million that could be used for military help. The current program of $27 million in nonlethal aid expires March 31.
The Republican-dominated Senate will take up the Contra aid plan on Friday, Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) said yesterday.
At the White House, spokesman Larry Speakes said that by 10:30 a.m. yesterday, 1,952 calls and wires had been received in support of Reagan, while there were 799 against the President's plan. O'Neill said phone calls and telegrams to his office totaled 119 against Reagan's plan and 38 in favor of it.
Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told reporters that calls to his California district office were 5-1 against Reagan.
O'Neill last week projected a 10-to-15 vote victory for opponents of the aid package. The speaker refused yesterday to provide a new vote count. However, Rep. Thomas Foley (D-Wash.), the majority whip, said, "we're ahead and there is no perceptible erosion."
In the Senate, in which Republicans hold a 53-47 edge, Dole said, "I think there are enough votes [to win]. It's close." When pressed, he said, "I think we're close to having enough votes as is."
The wave of predictions came as Reagan met at the White House with Habib, who had just returned from a three-day visit to Central America. Habib's visit did not, however, include a stop in Nicaragua.