Republicans Rally Behind Gingrich: Re-Election as Speaker Likely despite Democrats' Rancor
Blomquist, Brian, Kellman, Laurie, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
House Republicans closed ranks yesterday behind Speaker Newt Gingrich, who faces punishment for misleading Congress and failing to ensure that his political operation was not violating tax laws.
Even as Democrats escalated their cry that he should step down, Mr. Gingrich seemed a sure bet to be re-elected in two weeks because there were no cracks apparent in his support among Republicans, who hold a 20-vote majority in the House.
But the charged partisan rhetoric could stall a decision on what kind of penalty the ethics committee will recommend for the Georgia Republican.
The ethics committee, split evenly with five Democrats and five Republicans, must meet for "sanction hearings" to recommend a penalty for the speaker, which would have to be endorsed by a full House vote to be implemented.
The committee could vote to recommend a fine, reprimand, censure or expulsion from the House - the last being rare and unlikely in this case.
Or it could vote to take no action.
The committee hopes to reach a decision before Jan. 7, the date the 105th Congress convenes and the day the speaker is scheduled to be re-elected, but one panel member said that goal may not be reachable.
"That may or may not be accomplished," Rep. Steven H. Schiff, New Mexico Republican, said in an interview yesterday. "Everyone would like to see it handled as expeditiously as possible, but because of schedules, the time of year and other reasons, I don't know whether that will occur."
Mr. Schiff, who served on the four-member ethics subcommittee that investigated Mr. Gingrich, said committee members are not scheduled to be in Washington this week.
Mr. Gingrich admitted "with deep sadness" on Saturday violating House rules by unintentionally misleading the ethics committee, and by not taking adequate safeguards to ensure that no tax laws were violated when he allowed nonprofit organizations to finance a college course he taught and a political television show he created.
"I brought down on the people's house a controversy which could weaken the faith people have in their government," Mr. Gingrich wrote in a statement.
After the admission, House Republican leaders quickly shifted into an all-out publicity blitz to tell the public the speaker had unintentionally committed minor errors that would not jeopardize his re-election. They jacked up that effort yesterday on national television talk shows.
"He will definitely be re-elected," House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas said. "I think it will be resolved, certainly before the seventh of January."
Just a few hours after admitting guilt, Mr. Gingrich called two of his most vocal Republican critics in the House, Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Rep. Peter T. King of New York, to secure their support. The overture paid off.
"It is silly to suggest he should step down," Mr. Shays said yesterday. "The battle already has happened. They couldn't get our ideas so they went after our messenger."
"I feel Republicans will stand as one January 7. There's no reason not to," Mr. King said.
Meanwhile, Democrats escalated their rhetoric and called for Mr. Gingrich to step down. "We don't need people in the speaker's chair who lie to Congress," said House Democratic Whip David Bonior of Michigan on CNN's "Late Edition."
"He should step down immediately," said Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. …