''Indefatigable'' is one of the words often used to describe the President's chief of staff, James Baker III. But Baker, nearing the end of his 14-hour day, looked as if he would welcome a little respite as he ushered in this reporter for an interview.
After a minute or two for amenities and light conversation, the questioning got under way:
Q. Isn't the President feeling a little more heat these days, from opposition in Congress and from the press?
A. I think we are feeling a little more criticism. But we said last summer that when these budget cuts hit the street in October, we would be seeing some reaction. And we are.
The opposition from Congress was predictable when you remember what we have been able to achieve in the way of fiscal-policy reforms.
The AWACS sale was a tough one, which we recognized when we decided to go forward with it. The President knew that. Nevertheless he thought it was the right thing to do. He has been resolute, determined. And now, for the first time , it looks like it is possible that we may get it. All in all, we are not dis-couraged.
Q. Isn't it important psychologically to win on AWACS - so that it will help you do well on other issues, such as your new budget pro-posals?
A. Yes, it is always important to win the big ones so that you can continue your momentum. So far we have been able to win the big ones. But there will be a time when we will have a major legislative defeat. And we accept that. Frankly, we had earlier thought that AWACS might be the first defeat. And it still might. But we are very optimistic at this point.
Q. Has the President agreed to taking a much smaller amount of spending cuts?
A. No. He has merely agreed to take a look at an alternative whenever the Senate leaders come back with a comprehensive package saying ''this is what we suggest.''
Q. Then the stories saying that the President has agreed to accept less than half of the $13 billion in tax cuts he has proposed are incorrect?
A. That's right. And Howard Baker confirmed there had been no such agreement.
Q. Where do these stories come from? Like this one and the faulty one about the President's alleged decision to deploy and rotate 100 MX missiles in 1,000 shelters? The writers indicated that some of this information is coming out of the White House.
A. There are so many people involved in these decisions. And some are better informed than others. If I were the writer of one of those stories, I would want to go back and check my sources.
Q. And now this story about Haig arranging for Nixon to take that four-nation Mideast trip, without telling the White House.
A. Yes, Nixon had told Reagan about going.
Q. What about the charge that one hears about the President pretty much putting foreign policy together on an ad hoc basis - and that the President has not outlined his global foreign policy?
A. I disagree on the ad hoc charge. There has been full, detailed foreign policy planning. The President has not made a speech that says, ''This is my foreign policy.'' Laying it out like that. And there's some question whether he will.
We saw Jimmy Carter do that at Notre Dame. And he said his foreign policy was going to be built around the United States' inordinate fear of communism. And it wasn't a year or a year-and-a-half after that the Russians marched into Afghanistan. There were a few other things that occurred that made it impossible for Carter to pursue that kind of foreign policy.
The President doesn't feel you have to lay out in chapter and verse what his policy is. He feels that what you then do is limit your options. No one has a crystal ball to see two, three, four years down the road. He believes you don't have to spell out a foreign policy in order to have a foreign policy. Quite often you can be more effective if you don't do that.
Q. Is there a feud between Alexander Haig and Richard Allen?
A. There have been differences of opinion. But those are not infrequent in incoming administrations, and I really think we've pretty much put those behind us.
Q. Is Haig, indeed, being put on a short rein by the President?
A. No. Haig runs foreign policy in this administration. He formulates it, and he is the chief spokesman. And the President relies on him.
Q. Isn't it true, though, that Weinberger has the President's ear more than Haig?
A. If I were a betting man I would bet you a substantial sum of money that the secretary of state talks more to the President than the secretary of defense does.
Q. Isn't it a bit unusual that the secretary of defense should be permitted to speak out as freely as he does on foreign affairs?
A. I don't know that he does. The line between what is a defense and what is a foreign affairs matter is not a clear one. And in all administrations there have been difficulties in ascertaining just where that line is. The important thing is that both State and Defense speak out with one voice. And we try to coordinate over here to see to it that uniformity is maintained.