Going public with their story, young Republicans disenchanted with Newt Gingrich said they would not have tried to oust the House speaker without a solid push from Rep. Tom DeLay and other party leaders.
Despite the disaster that befell the attempt, however, the rebels appeared still in an insurgent mood. They agreed Sunday that Rep. Bill Paxon, who lost his leadership position in the commotion’s aftermath, would make a fine speaker.
Reps. Matt Salmon of Arizona and Joe Scarborough of Florida, conservatives from the activist GOP class of 1994, told ABC’s “This Week” that they both attended a pivotal meeting July 10 where the move to remove Gingrich was discussed.
Salmon said they were swayed by a clear-cut message from party whip DeLay of Texas, the No. 3 Republican in the House leadership, that he would join them in voting Gingrich out of office.
“I can tell you unequivocally that the 17 members that were in that room with Tom DeLay had that impression,” Salmon said.
Scarborough said on ABC and later on CNN’s “Late Edition” that DeLay appeared to have the backing of others in the GOP leadership.
“The entire leadership team was on board,” Scarborough said.
The two lawmakers insisted that an immediate uprising against Gingrich was never their intention. “I think most of us were in a wait-and-see mode” as Republican leaders negotiated with the White House on tax cuts and balancing the budget, Salmon said. “We wanted to see the speaker go in with full strength,” he said.
DeLay has refused to talk about the back-room intrigue. On Sunday, his spokesman John Feehery said, “Mr. DeLay has consistently been one of the speaker’s more ardent defenders, and he continues to support the speaker fully. He was simply trying to act as an honest broker.”
So far the only casualty has been Paxon, R-N.Y. He resigned his leadership post after admitting mistakes in his handling of the episode.
Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Paxon strongly denied any role in an attempt to overthrow Gingrich. His error, he said, was that “I didn’t inform the speaker of the problem early enough. I certainly didn’t anticipate when it blew up that it would have the impact that it did on our agenda and our conference.”
“Certainly when I looked in the speaker’s eye it was clear that he had lost confidence in me,” Paxon said.
Paxon, a conservative who gets along well with GOP moderates from the northeast, “is one of the most incredibly honorable man that I’ve been fortunate to know,” Salmon said. “If Newt Gingrich is not speaker, I think Bill Paxon would make an excellent speaker.”
Scarborough agreed that Paxon would be “a natural choice to succeed the speaker whenever the speaker decides to move on.”
Paxon’s name surfaced as the leading candidate to succeed Gingrich to the office third in line to the presidency if the speaker were driven out, but he said Sunday he is not interested in the job. “No. Period,” he said. “I never have been interested and don’t intend to be.”
Paxon twice dodged questions about whether Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, was involved in the plot. “I’m not going to rehash the events of the last two weeks,” Paxon said. Armey has denied any role in the anti-Gingrich talks.
Paxon stressed that the party must now lay aside this “party intrigue” and concentrate on getting the best deal with the White House in the balanced-budget and tax-cut negotiations.
Rep. Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, said a possibility still exists that House Republicans could hold a vote of confidence for other GOP leaders - Armey, DeLay and Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio. “It’s possible that a group of members may want to call them to be personally responsible, as Bill Paxon was,” Nussle said.
Democrats have so far been content to stand on the side and enjoy the Republican slugfest.