January 8, 1997 in Nation/World

Gingrich Prevails, Apologizes House Narrowly Re-Elects Speaker

Adam Clymer New York Times
 

Newt Gingrich narrowly won re-election as speaker of the House on Tuesday despite defections by nine Republicans troubled by his admission of ethics violations.

The speaker then told the House that he hoped to work not only with his supporters, but with those who opposed him, too, on a range of subjects from jobs to taxes to race relations to crime. He apologized for embarrassing the House, and concluded by saying that to solve the nation’s problems “we need to seek divine guidance in what we are doing.”

But the moment of good feeling passed quickly. Twenty-one minutes later, the Democratic whip, Rep. David Bonior of Michigan, accused the Republicans of rushing ahead despite unfinished ethics proceedings, saying, “We need to have a Congress that rewards virtue and punishes wrongdoing.” He said, “We’ve taken a tremendous step backwards here today. There’s an ethical cloud hanging over the House that will only get darker in the days to come.”

Then House Republicans rejected a request by the Ethics Committee’s special counsel, James Cole, for a few more days past Jan. 21 for final House action on penalties for Gingrich and insisted that the House act no later than Jan. 21. Gingrich has admitted giving the House untrue information about a televised college course he taught and failing to seek adequate advice about the legality of the course’s financing. Only two Republicans voted to give Cole more time.

Gingrich’s re-election, which made him the first Republican to achieve two consecutive terms as speaker since Nicholas Longworth in 1929, was a near thing. Even as the hourlong roll-call proceeded, he and other senior party leaders were buttonholing wavering members, urging them to vote for him, or at least to abstain by voting “present.”

In the end, he got 216 votes, all from Republicans. Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, the Democratic leader, got 205 - including 204 from Democrats and one from the House’s lone independent, Rep. Bernard Sanders of Vermont. Four Republicans voted for others, two for Rep. James Leach of Iowa, one for former Republican leader Bob Michel of Illinois, and one for former Rep. Bob Walker of Pennsylvania, an ally of Gingrich for many years.

Five other Republicans abstained, as did Gephardt. Since it takes a majority of those voting for a candidate to elect a speaker, even if the five abstainers had voted for someone, Gingrich would have squeaked through.

Four members did not vote, including Gingrich, two Democrats who are hospitalized, and Sam Johnson of Texas, a Republican whose plane to Washington was late.

As the clerk called the roll, members responded one by one with “Gingrich,” “Gephardt,” some other name or occasionally the word “present,” meaning they had essentially abstained.

There were looks of pleasure, or sometimes dismay, from Republican leaders as the clerk came to various representatives-elect who had publicly expressed doubts about Gingrich.

The first was Tom Campbell of California, who told Gingrich to his face Monday night that he thought the speaker had deliberately misled the Ethics Committee. Campbell voted for Leach, whose own blast at Gingrich Monday marked the first defection by an important Republican. Leach, beginning his 21st year in Congress, heads the Banking Committee; he voted for Michel, who preceded Gingrich as Republican leader.

But there were only nine defectors from the Republican majority of 227, and so Gingrich won.

Tuesday’s action began with an attempt by Rep. Vic Fazio of California, chairman of the Democratic caucus, to persuade the House to elect an interim speaker and wait until the ethics proceedings against Gingrich were finished before making a permanent choice. He lost 222 to 210, with four Republicans voting for postponement.

There was no real open debate over whether Gingrich was fit to lead the House. The nomination speeches were mild and there was no further discussion.

The only one to join the issue that Republicans have fretted over for weeks was Bonior, a Democrat they universally regard as a partisan scold.

When the time came to debate the rules for the next two years, he began by saying, “We’re not defined simply by the laws we pass, but by the example we set.”

“Every time we look the other way when somebody breaks the rules,” he said, “we don’t just damage the integrity of this House, we send a message to every kid in Michigan and California and Georgia that lying pays, that cheating works and that wrongdoing goes unpunished.”

The House had ignored that lesson in re-electing Gingrich, he said.

Gingrich’s address, far less euphoric and excited than his speech two years ago when he first took the gavel, contained one central apologia.

“Let me say to the entire House that two years ago, when I became the first Republican speaker in 40 years, to the degree I was too brash, too self-confident or too pushy, I apologize. To whatever degree, in any way, I brought controversy or inappropriate attention to the House, I apologize.”

Gingrich rattled through some legislative issues he wants paid attention to, from taxes to world trade to savings at the Pentagon. Then he outlined three issues he wanted the members to focus on:

Race. “I don’t believe any rational American can be comfortable with where we are on the issue of race.”

Drugs. “If we did not have drugs in this country, the amount of spouse abuse, the amount of child abuse, the amount of violence would drop dramatically.”

Ignorance. “It’s not about geography in the third grade. It’s about learning the work ethic. It’s about learning to be a citizen. It’s about learning to save. It’s about all the things that make us functional.”

MEMO: These sidebars appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT? Despite his victory, Gingrich still faces further ethical scrutiny as the House Ethics Committee meets today to begin considering a suitable punishment for rules violations he admitted last month.

THE NINE Those Republican members of the House who either voted for someone else or effectively abstained by answering the roll call with “present”:

Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa - “A critical way for the Republican Party to contrast itself with this administration is to set uncompromising ethical standards and insist on … accountability for its members.” Rep. Linda Smith of Washington - “I don’t care if he was my brother, he was getting in the way of what was best for America.” Rep. Constance Morella of Maryland said it was “unconscionable” to vote for speaker before hearing all the facts from the Ethics Committee. Rep. John Hostettler of Indiana worried that Gingrich had a cloud over his head and that the focus would be on the messenger, not the message. Rep. Mark Neumann of Wisconsin said Gingrich could not serve effectively. Rep. Scott Klug of Wisconsin belatedly voted “present”; his vote was not initially recorded because, he said, Republicans trying to persuade him to change his mind caused him to miss hearing his name called by the House clerk. Rep. Tom Campbell of California Michael Forbes of New York Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia - From wire reports

These sidebars appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT? Despite his victory, Gingrich still faces further ethical scrutiny as the House Ethics Committee meets today to begin considering a suitable punishment for rules violations he admitted last month.

THE NINE Those Republican members of the House who either voted for someone else or effectively abstained by answering the roll call with “present”:

Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa - “A critical way for the Republican Party to contrast itself with this administration is to set uncompromising ethical standards and insist on … accountability for its members.” Rep. Linda Smith of Washington - “I don’t care if he was my brother, he was getting in the way of what was best for America.” Rep. Constance Morella of Maryland said it was “unconscionable” to vote for speaker before hearing all the facts from the Ethics Committee. Rep. John Hostettler of Indiana worried that Gingrich had a cloud over his head and that the focus would be on the messenger, not the message. Rep. Mark Neumann of Wisconsin said Gingrich could not serve effectively. Rep. Scott Klug of Wisconsin belatedly voted “present”; his vote was not initially recorded because, he said, Republicans trying to persuade him to change his mind caused him to miss hearing his name called by the House clerk. Rep. Tom Campbell of California Michael Forbes of New York Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia - From wire reports


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email