Republicans rallied around Newt Gingrich on Sunday, saying the ethics violations he admitted shouldn’t jeopardize his re-election as House speaker in two weeks.
“I feel Republicans will stand as one Jan. 7. There’s no reason not to,” said Rep. Peter King, one of the few GOP House members who previously had been openly critical of Gingrich.
Despite evidence that Gingrich’s support within his party was solidifying, some Democrats continued to push for censure. House Minority Whip David Bonior, D-Mich., led the charge.
“We don’t need people in the speaker’s chair who lie to Congress,” said Bonior, appearing on CNN’s “Late Edition.”
Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said he expected the House Ethics Committee would decide before the Jan. 7 House leadership election whether to recommend a punishment for Gingrich, ranging from a reprimand or fine to a more serious censure, which would prevent him from serving as speaker.
Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., who chairs the Ethics Committee of five Democrats and five Republicans, said she could not predict when the committee might rule, but hoped it would be before Jan. 7.
“It’s very hard when you have two weeks, both with major holidays,” she said in a telephone interview Sunday night.
Johnson refused to discuss whether she would support Gingrich’s reelection as speaker. “I absolutely have no position on the speakership. As chairman of the ethics committee, I will vote present until this is concluded,” she said.
Once the committee acts, it would be up to the full Republican-controlled House to determine Gingrich’s fate.
“I do not believe that censure would be appropriate,” Armey said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He noted that “the speaker has readily accepted responsibility” for his errors.
Gingrich released a statement of regret Saturday in conjunction with an ethics subcommittee report accusing him of violating House rules. He acknowledged making mistakes related to the use of tax-exempt organizations to finance his college course and televised workshops, and erring in his earlier responses to the Ethics Committee investigation.
The House leadership immediately launched a campaign in his defense, including several appearances on Sunday morning talk shows.
“The Republican members of the House are fully supportive of Newt,” Rep. John Boehner, House Republican Conference Chairman, said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“They’ve looked at these charges. … They feel comfortable that they were nothing more than technical infractions of the rules,” said Boehner of Ohio.
The effort included Gingrich and his lawyer spending a half-hour on the telephone with King, going over the details of the report. Gingrich also called Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., another member whose support had wavered.
King, who had previously called Gingrich “damaged goods,” said Sunday he was convinced that Gingrich hadn’t intentionally done anything wrong.
“It would be a terrible precedent to be set that for unintentional errors a person would be denied the opportunity to be speaker of the House,” King said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Likewise, Shays told CNN,” “I’ll vote for him eagerly.”
But Bonior said Gingrich’s ethical lapses were too serious to be so quickly forgiven.
“This isn’t just a technical matter,” Bonior said. “This happened over a seven-year period through multiple charitable organizations, and it involved $6 million of laundering money out of kids’ pockets, out of educational opportunities, into Gingrich’s personal empire and to him.”