House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his loyal second in command, Rep. Dick Armey of Texas, returned fire Sunday after criticism had been leveled against the policies and practices of the House Republicans they lead.
They were not, however, responding to some partisan salvo from Democrats, but instead, the rather blunt criticism last week from Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, R-N.Y.
On Friday, D’Amato had complained that Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is being hurt by his association with Gingrich.
Sunday, Gingrich said D’Amato is “just wrong.” “I don’t know why he is wandering around saying these things,” Gingrich said on the CBS News program “Face the Nation.”
On another Sunday talk show, Armey, the House majority leader, was far harsher, suggesting a motive for D’Amato to say what he did: D’Amato is desperate and trying to shore up his political standing in New York, where he is up for re-election in two years.
With polls showing Dole trailing President Clinton by wide margins, it has been a season of discontent for Republicans with the sprouting of intraparty feuds.
But unlike disagreements among Republicans over issues such as the minimum wage and the gasoline tax, the D’Amato-Gingrich argument is over how Dole should shape his case to be president and how closely he should be identified with Gingrich’s aggressive approach.
D’Amato is a leading figure in the Dole campaign, and his criticism reverberated throughout Republican circles. His complaints that Gingrich has misread his mandate from the 1994 congressional elections were explicit and frequent on Friday.
Gingrich answered, “I would simply say to Al D’Amato that we favor balancing the federal budget so that our children aren’t crushed by debt. I think 80 percent of the American people favor that.” He said most people also endorse House Republican efforts to enact death penalty laws and tax cuts.
Armey, speaking on the NBC News program “Meet the Press,” said D’Amato’s “mama apparently didn’t teach him not to bite the hand that feeds him.” He said the “Contract With America,” the House Republicans’ campaign manifesto from 1994, gave the Republicans majorities in both the House and Senate, making D’Amato chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.
“I’m sorry he doesn’t recognize that,” Armey said. “But he’s behind in the polls, and you know when politicians get behind in the polls, they get desperate, and Al obviously wanted to endear himself to big labor. They’re spending a ton of money in New York.”
Armey added, “Al will come someday to appreciate that Newt Gingrich was the political genius who gave us this majority and put America on the right track.”