274. Memorandum From the Assistant to the President and Director of Communications (Buchanan) to the White House Chief of Staff (Regan) and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Poindexter)1

Understand there is some dissent to the idea of addressing the Congress on aid to the democratic resistance in Nicaragua. Seems to me that every argument is on the side of doing it—in a dramatic appearance Tuesday night.2

A) If we already have the votes to win narrowly, a Presidential address will garner all the credit for Ronald Reagan—and will likely increase our margin of victory. The speech is tailored to the Democratic arguments.

B) If we do not have the votes, the President will be given credit for Churchillian leadership, for going the last mile. Full responsibility will then fall, squarely and totally, on the Democratic House.

However, if we lose this vote narrowly,—and Ronald Reagan is watching on television from a vacation retreat in California—we will not escape blame. For the President to go to a fundraiser for a Democratic defector (Santini), and then go on vacation, before the vote even takes place, will send a message to the House—and the Washington community—that Nicaragua was not that high a priority.3 The effect of [Page 1200] our defeat will be to divide our own people, raising the questions as to who was responsible for that narrow loss.

Rarely have I seen a no-lose proposition; but a dramatic and electric Presidential visit to Congress tomorrow might, postponing by a few hours both his vacation and a political appearance, will send a message to Congress, the country, and the Soviets—that Ronald Reagan is deadly earnest about Nicaragua aid.4

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Collection, Donald T. Regan Papers, Box 192, White House, Notes, Daily Meetings, June 1986 (2 of 2). No classification marking. Immediate. Although Buchanan indicated that he had attached a final draft of the proposed address, the final draft was not found attached.
  2. June 24.
  3. Reference is to James Santini, Republican Senatorial candidate for Nevada. The President was scheduled to travel to Las Vegas June 24 to attend a Senate campaign fundraising dinner for Santini and then fly to California to vacation at his ranch. However, Reagan did not fly to Las Vegas until June 25. (Reagan Library, President’s Daily Diary) In his personal diary entry for June 24, the President noted: “When I got to the office Don R. told me I just couldn’t go with the Contra vote hanging over us & Tips refusal to let me address the House. Well I knew he was right but I was d--n mad. There was the matter of my appearance tonite in Las Vegas—a fund raiser for our cand. for Senate Cong.man Santini. Well, we got them to postpone it until tomorrow night.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, vol. II, November 1985–January 1989, p. 612) In his remarks at the June 25 dinner, the President addressed the delay: “Now, I imagine you’re all well aware that the problem confronting us, and that caused the 24-hour delay, had to do with an amendment to a military construction bill, and the amendment that they were going to try to put on that bill was one that called for aid to the contras and to our other allied states down there in Central America.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1986, Book I, p. 841)
  4. Although the President did not visit Capitol Hill on June 24, that day he did deliver an address to the nation on U.S. assistance for the Nicaraguan resistance. For the text of the address, see ibid., pp. 833–838. He also transmitted his remarks in writing to Speaker O’Neill under a June 24 letter. For the text of the letter, see ibid., p. 838. In his personal diary entry for that day, he wrote: “At 12 noon I went on T.V. with the speech I would have given to the House. I spent the day phoning & meeting with House members trying to line up votes—with some success.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, vol. II, November 1985–January 1989, p. 612) The House of Representatives attached the contra aid package to the FY 1987 military construction appropriations bill (H.R. 5052) and approved it by a 249–174 vote on June 25. In a statement released on June 25, the President praised the decision, stating: “The vote today in the House of Representatives signals a step forward in bipartisan consensus in American foreign policy. I want to congratulate all those who voted to restore this spirit of bipartisan cooperation on foreign policy issues. Once again members of both parties stand united in resisting totalitarian expansionism and promoting the cause of democracy.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1986, Book I, p. 840) The Senate approved the $100 million aid package in votes taken August 12 and 13. The military appropriations bill, containing the contra provisions, was subsequently included within the FY 1987 continuing appropriations resolution (H.J. Res. 738). Public Law 99–591, (100 Stat. 3341), which the President signed into law on October 18, authorized the $100 million in aid. Of the $100 million, $60 million could be spent at any time and $40 million could be spent only after February 15, 1987. In addition, $30 million was designated as humanitarian aid. (Congress and the Nation, vol. VII, 1985–1988, p. 179)