Ethical Quagmires Making Political Leadership Uneasy

Article excerpt

The new year begins with an awkward sense of uncertainty in the nation's political leadership, as Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich fights to keep his job and ethical questions linger over President Bill Clinton's White House.

For the speaker and the president, the persistent ethical troubles only increase their desire to focus on policy in 1997.

Both Clinton and Gingrich have the same strategy for the weeks ahead: Try to make ethical questions an afterthought by turning public attention elsewhere, beginning with a fresh attempt to balance the federal budget. "I ask for your help in creating a sense of reconciliation, the right sort of spirit in which we can deal with these issues," Clinton said in an appeal to his political rivals Monday at a White House prayer breakfast. Gingrich, in his first public comments since admitting last month that he misled the House ethics committee, predicted that he would be re-elected speaker and promised a productive legislative year. "The change in direction is so dramatic that I believe the 105th Congress will be even more productive than the 104th," Gingrich said in Georgia. While most Democrats are gloating over Gingrich's ethics woes, the White House no-comment policy serves as evidence that Clinton expects Gingrich to prevail in today's House leadership elections - and proof of how much the president needs Gingrich's cooperation in the year ahead. …