Gingrich Bombards Critics, First Lady, Press Corps
In a fierce speech to a friendly crowd Friday, House Speaker Newt Gingrich angrily defended his controversial book deal, denounced the national press corps as “despicable” and ridiculed his Democratic critics with a riposte at first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“I know there are important Democrats in this town who would have turned down $4.5 million,” Gingrich said sarcastically, referring to the amount of his original book advance. “They would have said, ‘I can make too much money in cattle futures.”’
The reference to Clinton’s controversial finances - her $1,000 investment reaped $100,000 in the volatile futures market - brought the audience at the Republican National Committee luncheon to its feet in a cheering, stomping ovation.
The hourlong address was Gingrich’s most heated counterattack on his political foes since he was elected speaker. In the sort of undiplomatic language rarely used by congressional leaders, he called former House Speaker Jim Wright, who resigned after Gingrich raised questions about his book deal, “a crook,” questioned the personal motives of his most vociferous Democratic critics and described members of the news media as their willing accomplices.
Wright, who was never charged with a crime, issued a statement saying his personal integrity “needs no defending from remarks by Mr. Gingrich, who seems to devote a great portion of his career to trying to malign other people.” Spokesmen for the first lady didn’t return calls seeking comment.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole came to Gingrich’s defense, saying he was being attacked by Democrats “who can’t stand to be in the minority.” But noting Gingrich’s frequent attacks on Democrats when he was in the minority, Dole added, “If you live by the sword, you die by the sword.”
Gingrich’s speech came amid a general breakdown in comity on Capitol Hill, where Senate Democrats have used parliamentary maneuvers to stall Republicans’ efforts to enact their “Contract With America.” The speaker warned those tactics could delay and perhaps endanger President Clinton’s $40 billion package of loan guarantees for Mexico.
“The president has an obligation to carry his party leadership,” he told reporters before the speech. “He can’t just turn to the Republicans and say, ‘Break your word to the American people, break the contract that you made, so that we can get something done”’ on Mexico.
Later, in the speech, Gingrich made no effort to conceal his disdain for those who have criticized his book deal or disagreed with him on public policy.
“I am a genuine revolutionary,” he declared. “They are the genuine reactionaries. We are going to change their world. They will do anything to stop us. They will use any tool. There is no grotesquery, no distortion, no dishonesty too great for them to come after us.”
The harsh message seemed at odds with Republican efforts to focus on passing legislation within the first 100 days of taking control of both the House and Senate. Republican National Chairman Haley Barbour privately had urged Gingrich not to raise the book deal, calling it a distraction.
But in the speech, Gingrich defended his arrangement with HarperCollins at length and denied that it raised questions about whether he was abusing his office, noting he had agreed to take only a $1 advance and royalties from sales.
Meanwhile, the RNC voted as expected to hold its national convention next year in San Diego. Barbour also announced that the official chosen for the job of delivering the Republican response to Clinton’s State of the Union address Tuesday would be New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman.