President Reagan asked today to address the House on the eve of its vote on his request for aid to Nicaraguan rebels, but House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) rejected his request, a White House spokesman announced.
Presidential spokesman Larry Speakes said Reagan was "deeply disappointed" that he would not be accorded the opportunity to make a final appeal for his $100-million aid package, which is scheduled for a House vote Wednesday.
Speakes said White House chief of staff Donald T. Regan had called O'Neill this afternoon to ask if the President might deliver a speech to the chamber Tuesday before leaving for a speech in Las Vegas and a week's vacation at his California ranch.
Presidential addresses to a single house of the Congress are extremely rare. Speakes said his research showed only half a dozen or so cases in which a President had gone before the House. Most of the cases he cited involved cases in which U.S. troops were in combat.
The spokesman said that White House researchers learned that, although addresses to joint sessions of Congress are traditional, previous examples of speeches to a single chamber include: President Thomas Jefferson speaking on the subject of the Barbary pirates, which Marines were dispatched to subdue; James Madison on the War of 1812; Woodrow Wilson during World War I and in 1919, the year of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles ending the war and establishing the League of Nations; and Richard Nixon on the war in Indochina.
The House vote on aid to the rebel counterrevolutionaries known as contras is expected to be very close. Speakes said today that the White House was still a few votes short of victory.
Speakes said O'Neill, a steadfast opponent of Reagan on the issue, declined the President's request in a telephone conversation with Regan, saying he did not want the issue "politicized."
The spokesman said he did not know whether that word was O'Neill's or Regan's. Comment from the Speaker's office was not immediately available.
Speakes, who had suspended his daily news briefing for reporters in anticipation of announcing the President's speech plan, returned to the podium to announce:
"The President has asked to address the House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 24, on the cause of freedom and democracy in Central America. In the President's view, the way the United States responds to this fundamental challenge will affect the course of U.S. foreign policy for decades to come.
"It is a cause which requires national unity and firm bipartisan support," Speakes' statement said.
"The Speaker of the House of Representatives has declined the President's request. The President is deeply disappointed."
Speakes said Reagan hoped O'Neill would reconsider.