Republican disarray on the House speakership nothing new

Date:

Bill Hansmann | American Thinker

The current kerfuffle in the Republican party’s attempt to select a Speaker of the House to replace Kevin McCarthy brings to mind the ascension and later resignation of Newt Gingrich as Speaker following the Republican Revolution vote of 1994. In that election, thanks largely to Gingrich’s Contract With America, Republicans gained fifty-four seats to garner the majority in the House for the first time in forty years.

Gingrich was mainly responsible for electing a sizable number of the new, young wave of House Republican conservatives. The Republicans elected Newt as the 50th House Speaker. He served four years as Speaker and, in my opinion, deserved to serve many more. Things started well, and in the first hundred days, the Republican House acted on all the items in the Contract.

They passed bills involving tax cuts, a proposed Balanced Budget amendment, and other legislation designed to make good on Republican promises to shrink government and significantly increase the fiscal responsibility of the federal government. Of course, our legislature is bi-cameral, and that legislation had to be agreed upon by the Senate or a compromise bill formed in a joint committee. This proved difficult, and most of the proposed bills from the House died in those committees.

The Senate did not share Newt’s vision of America. Gingrich, working closely with the Clinton administration and Clinton himself, managed to create a balanced budget — something looked upon as impossible in today’s political climate. Their cooperative efforts also instituted various forms of tax reform to benefit the general population. Unfortunately, at the same time Bill Clinton was working with Gingrich to insert legislation into the national agenda to benefit all of the citizenry, he was working on other forms of insertion, involving cigars and Monica Lewinsky, which eventually became public knowledge.

To his credit, Gingrich never made public statements about Clinton’s inappropriate sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky. He did, however, feel that lying under oath to federal officials was an impeachable offense, and he pressed for proceedings to be brought against the President. Clinton was impeached, but as we all know, was found not guilty by the Senate. Following the failed impeachment, Gingrich found enemies on all sides. The Democrats hated him for his part in the impeachment, along with being from the opposing party and the individual most responsible for the Republican majority.

But more troublesome for his speakership, he was getting roundly criticized by many of the young Turk conservatives he had brought to Congress through his efforts in ’94. Newt was no longer the back-bench bombthrower whom conservatives had come to love for his fiery rhetoric. He made great efforts to be a statesman, working with President Clinton to find a shared vision for a better America. The Lewinsky affair ended the teamwork that had shown such promise.

It was open warfare against Gingrich on the part of the Democrats, resulting in spurious ethics charges being brought against him in 1997. A course being taught by Gingrich at Kennesaw College, an institution in his district, was found to be partisan in nature, and Newt was found to have solicited funds for the course inappropriately. I find the notion that Newt Gingrich intentionally acted unethically to be absurd. Integrity is often defined as what you do when no one is looking.

Newt had integrity. During his speakership, I had a doctor/patient relationship with him, as well as being the landlord for his district office in Marietta, Georgia. Federal law states that congressmen and other federal officials may not use government property, which his rented space, paid for by the federal government, qualified as, to solicit election campaign funds. On a number of occasions, Gingrich asked if he might use my private office and phones to make campaign solicitations.

I agreed to his request. I saw patients in other rooms while Newt, behind closed doors, did private business privately. It is improbable that anyone would have known if he had used his own office upstairs to make those phone calls. My already high opinion of the man soared. Sometimes, public and private personas are at odds. Though we never spoke of it, I feel that Newt was unhappy with his infidelity. I have always believed that the desire to not have his private life, the life of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, paraded publicly through the media played a considerable part in prompting his resignation, first from the speakership and then finally from Congress.

But I believe there was a larger reason. Newt saw many of the young conservatives he had helped become House members turn against him. His attempts at statesmanship and trying to govern the country alongside Bill Clinton were viewed as a sellout. His efforts in the impeachment proceedings were insufficient to gain forgiveness for his previous sins of colluding with the enemy, a sin never to be forgiven. Many of the individuals he had brought to Congress through his campaigning efforts abandoned the man responsible for their positions. A coup against his speakership failed in 1997, but the handwriting was on the wall.

The man who, in my opinion, was one of the finest legislators of the twentieth century, would be gone from public service, though not the public eye, in less than two years. Attempts to name a successor to Gingrich hit a snag when first-choice Robert Livingston declined the position due to his own marital infidelity. Dennis Hastert finally assumed the position and served longer than any Republican has held the speakership. However, in 2016, he was found guilty of sex crimes involving minors dating to his teaching days before becoming a member of Congress, and served time in prison.

Hopefully, a new Speaker will be elected soon. It is past time that Republicans get down to business and shed the mantle of ‘the gang who couldn’t shoot straight.’ The country deserves better than it is being given. Would that Newt Gingrich were available, and of course, electable.


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