House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., seemed to be popping up everywhere this week, giving speeches, holding news conferences, speaking on the floor, sitting for television interviews and testifying before a sparsely attended subcommittee hearing Friday morning.
The messages he delivered in those appearances - and at a meeting with House Republicans and a private two-hour session with defiant lawmakers - appear to have silenced for the time being House Republican critics who questioned the speaker’s commitment to the conservative GOP agenda of cutting taxes, shrinking the federal government and ending federal subsidies for the arts.
“We haven’t had an aggressive conservative spokesman for this party since Bob Dole’s campaign,” said Rep. Joe Scarborough, R-Fla., who had been a vocal critic of Gingrich and his leadership team. “Newt Gingrich in the past several days has stepped back into that role.”
“He’s turned a major corner,” said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., who arranged a Wednesday night meeting between the speaker and the 11 House Republicans who handed him an embarrassing defeat on a procedural vote three weeks ago. “We’re getting back to the ideas of the ‘Contract With America’: balancing the budget, cutting taxes, shrinking the size of the federal government.”
But Gingrich is not home free. “Most of us are in a trust-but-verify mode,” Salmon said, recalling the Russian proverb President Ronald Reagan used to describe his attitude about arms treaties with Soviet leaders.
Gingrich’s full schedule of appearances this week marked the end of a period of largely shunning the spotlight as he sought to avoid personal controversies after becoming the first speaker ever punished by the House for ethics violations. That effort stumbled when comments on taxes and arts funding were interpreted as wavering from conservative goals.
But apparently emboldened by good reviews of his 11-day trip to South Korea, China, Japan and Taiwan, Gingrich is stepping out again.
In a series of speeches this week, Gingrich blasted favorite targets of conservative Republicans: labor unions, President Clinton, congressional Democrats and the media.
And he cast his foreign travels in terms of boosting the conservative agenda at home, praising the low-tax, balanced-budget policies of Hong Kong and the economic growth of South Korea and Taiwan.