WASHINGTON -- President Bush reluctantly acknowledged yesterday that the treatment of Anita F. Hill by backers of Clarence Thomas' Supreme Court nomination could dissuade others with sexual harassment complaints from coming forward.
But, in a second day of a politically hot cross-fire with Congress on the handling of judicial appointments, Mr. Bush insisted that the nominee's interests are at least equally important and argued that the Senate should consider sensitive accusations behind closed doors.
In response to a reporter's question about the treatment of Ms. Hill, the president said, "Yes, I'm concerned about that, and her feelings and everything else related to it."
But he also said, "I say they [people with accusations] should come forward, but let's do it in a climate so that people are not destroyed in the process," the president told reporters at a news conference. "The more of that kind of open, flamboyant debate where people's characters on one side or another get attacked, I worry about."
Mr. Bush was reacting to charges of insensitivity to women an )) even of hypocrisy after he lambasted Congress on Thursday for turning Justice Thomas' confirmation hearings into a televised "X-rated" spectacle of "piranha tactics" -- although the White House had supported actively the attack waged by GOP senators and pro-Thomas forces against Ms. Hill.
He reiterated the "blame Congress" theme House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., said he expects to be a frequent feature of the Bush repertoire as the president rehearses his anticipated re-election bid next year.
Mr. Bush asked: "Why can't you [Congress] delegate in the hearings judgment on these matters to the senators to do behind closed doors? Why can't we facilitate the process by guaranteeing as best we can against insidious leaks that damage people the minute the door opens?"
On another topic yesterday, Mr. Bush said for the first time that he would be "enthusiastic about a tax cut for all Americans" but that he would not support any proposal that would add to the federal budget deficit.
Although Mr. Bush said several times that he would not conside re opening last year's budget agreement with Congress to approve a new tax-and-growth package, aides said that he was referring only to the pay-as-you-go part of the agreement and that he might support a reallocation of funds between spending categories.
Various proposals for financing middle-income tax cuts throug such means as defense budget cuts are reportedly under active consideration at the White House, along with a repackaging of previous Bush initiatives to stimulate economic growth through a tax cut on capital gains and by use of investment cred its.
With his re-election prospects now possibly threatened by th sluggish pace of the economy during the recession, Mr. Bush said that he was watching closely ideas being offered on Capitol Hill.
Yesterday's meeting with reporters was likely to be the president's last before he leaves Monday on a 2 1/2 -day trip to Madrid, Spain, where he and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev are scheduled to open a historic Middle East peace conference.