The Senate, stung by feuding between Democrats and President Reagan, emerged from a political brawl of "White House bashing" and allegations of betrayal with a narrow vote to send non-military aid to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.
Utah Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch, both Republican, voted against the measure.Democrats, after killing Republican efforts to send new military aid to the Contras, expressed shock Wednesday night that Reagan and their GOP colleagues refused even to join them in sending $27 million in food, medicine and other supplies to the guerrillas opposing Nicaragua's Sandinista government.
"We give and give and give! Now at the end I hear we're being told we'll pass it (only) on this side of the aisle!" complained Senate Democratic leader Robert Byrd of West Virginia, shaking with anger that the coalition he had struggled for a week to build had collapsed.
Byrd was still steamed Thursday, telling reporters, "We have a White House that plays politics. They played politics on the trade bill, the plant- closing bill, the defense veto. It's a White House that ought to have learned by now. It's all take and no give with this White House. Its credibility, what little it had, must be gone by now because it left the Contras high and dry."
At the White House, spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said it was "pretty likely" President Reagan would veto the Contra aid bill if it was attached to a defense appropriations bill that is not acceptable. "I think it's pretty likely, yes," he said.
The spokesman didn't respond to Byrd's comments. "We don't believe there was a change of signals and no one was misled," Fitzwater said. "We said all along that it was not acceptable and that we were trying to work on it. We simply were not able to make enough changes to persuade Republicans to support it."
On the legislation, reiterating that it was "minimally acceptable" to the administration, Fitzwater said, "We will work to improve it in conference."
The Democratic plan passed, 49-47, and was attached to the 1989 Pentagon appropriations bill, giving Republicans another reason to fight because Reagan may veto the underlying measure if it emerges with arms control restrictions.
Byrd was frustrated, however, because he had sought GOP support in order to send the House an aid proposal with strong bipartisan backing.
The House, a stronghold of opposition to providing military aid to the rebels, is not expected to accept a bill that carries no strong political impact after weak Senate passage.
It turns out that would suit lawmakers like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who urged colleagues to seek a new military aid plan after their August recess.
Senate Republican leader Robert Dole of Kansas, who fought vainly to renew $16 million in previously approved military aid to the guerrillas that was cut off in February, explained that his party decided it could not accept a plan that provides none of what the GOP considers meaningful aid to the rebels.
Dole said he had asked Reagan's advisers to endorse the Byrd proposal after his own 57-39 defeat but they refused, perhaps looking to implications for the presidential campaign. Vice President George Bush has accused Democrats of failing to support the "freedom fighters."
At the White House, spokesman Marlin Fitzwater insisted late Wednesday, "We indicated that the Byrd amendment was minimally acceptable in light of our judgment of the best interests of the freedom fighters."
The Senate vote came after a week of tense negotiations between Democrats, Republicans and the White House on how to signal the Sandinistas that they must work seriously with the Contras toward peace and political reforms.
The effort was engulfed from the outset in presidential election politics and a pervasive distrust on Capitol Hill.