Sen. David Durenberger (R., Minn.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, agreed that a hard look at the nation's foreign policy apparatus is warranted.
"Clearly, the process and the policy itself has serious credibility problems," he said, suggesting a major shake-up in personnel. "Something has to give around that place."
At a news conference Wednesday night, Reagan defended his actions. "I deeply believe in the correctness of my decision," the President said. "I don't think a mistake was made."
An ABC News poll taken immediately after Reagan's news conference Wednesday night indicated doubts among the public about the President's defense of his actions. In a sampling of 508 people, 59 percent said they thought Reagan had not told the truth about the arms deal and 59 percent disapproved of his handling of the deal. His overall approval rating dropped to 57 percent from 67 percent in September.
Reagan's national security adviser, Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter, is scheduled to brief the senior Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees about the Iranian deal early today.
After that, Central Intelligence Agency Director William J. Casey, undersecretary of state Michael Armacost and assistant defense secretary Richard L. Armitage are scheduled to testify in separate closed-door sessions before the full memberships of the two committees.
Both the briefings and the hearings are expected to focus on the details of how the administration got involved with Iran and how that involvement led to the shipment of U.S. arms there and the subsequent release of three American hostages held in Lebanon by pro-Iranian Shiite fundamentalist groups.
"We have every confidence that total disclosure will be made," House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D., Texas) said yesterday after emerging from a morning meeting with Reagan. "I think you may be sure that all of the (requested) information will be required in detail and in total factual accuracy. . . . They are going to be disclosed to Congress, just as the law compels."
Beyond that, however, leaders in both parties said they were determined to prevent a recurrence of what they labeled as a lapse in judgment shown by the administration in reversing U.S. policy on Iran. Previously, the United States had embargoed arms to Iran, and had pressured other countries not to sell arms to the Iranians.
The congressional leaders yesterday turned their attention to the role that the National Security Council, now headed by Poindexter, played in formulating and carrying out the approach to Iran.
"I don't believe the NSC ought to be getting into operations," said Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R., Ind.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. The NSC, he said, should be a broker among the agencies that are legally empowered to make and implement foreign policy.
The nation's foreign policy machinery has not broken down, said Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R., Kan.). "But it needs a right hand and a left knowing what it's doing," she said. "What we need to do is reassess the role of the National Security Council."
Durenberger said the President was "not being well served" by the NSC, which he called a "Lone Ranger" operation that had gotten out of hand and caused worldwide embarrassment to the President.
Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., the Democrat's chief spokesman on military matters and the soon-to-be chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, echoed that theme, saying the President's efforts to justify the arms shipments - combined with the earlier confusion over what was discussed at his summit with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev last month - have caused Americans as well as allied leaders to question the truth of what Reagan tells them.
"There has been damage to the President's credibility in the last 30 to 40 days," said Nunn. "And when the President's credibility goes down, either at home or abroad, it's bad for the country, it's bad for the Democratic Party, it's bad for the Republican Party, it's bad for the American people and it's bad for the process."
Nunn called upon Reagan to admit the error of his ways by declaring: "We made a mistake and we're going to correct that mistake."
Several of the United States' Western allies have pointed out that the White House had scolded them for selling arms to Iran. Officials in moderate Arab states, whose governments are supporting Iraq in its war against Iran, also have complained to the Reagan administration about the arms sales.