Chastened Gingrich forgoes victory speech for mea culpa

Newt Gingrich yesterday became the first Republican to win a consecutive term as House Speaker in 68 years, but in a fashion and by a margin which only underscore how his ethical problems will continue to dog him throughout the 105th Congress which he formally inaugurated.

After a final personal plea for support from his colleagues, and non- stop lobbying by the party leadership to limit defections, the controversial Georgia Republican defeated his Democratic opponent, the minority leader Dick Gephardt, by 216 votes to 205, while 14 members either abstained, backed alternative candidates, or did not vote. For all the arm-twisting therefore, Mr Gingrich failed to win the outright majority of 218 that should have been guaranteed by the 227-208 overall Republican majority in the House.

Minutes later a chastened Speaker delivered his own mea culpa in an acceptance address that could hardly have contrasted more with the boastful, all-conquering figure who took took office two years ago. In 1994 Newt Gingrich led a proclaimed radical "Republican revolution". Yesterday, he humbly spoke of "this very difficult time ... to the extent I was too pushy, too self-confident, or too brash, I apologize. To whatever degree I brought controversy or inappropriate attention to the House, I apologize."

But contrition alone will not suffice. Within the next fortnight the House will hear a detailed report on Mr Gingrich's acknowledged transgressions. These include misleading the House Ethics Committee, and wrongly using tax-exempt donations to finance a politically partisan college course which he taught until 1993. Then the committee and the full House must decide his punishment.

As the vote approached, the air on Capitol Hill dripped with old-fashioned parliamentary suspense, as Republicans desperately tried to rally support behind their embattled standard bearer and Democrats sought to postpone the vote and nominate an interim Speaker until final judgement on Gingrich's sins. That manoeuvre was beaten by Republicans, 220 votes to 210, but the final vote was no ringing endorsement.

Of the 227 Republicans only 216 backed the Speaker. Two voted for Jim Leach, the highly respected chairman of the House Banking Committee, one of the Speaker's five declared Republican opponents, two more backed other candidates and six abstained. But there was no disguising the nervousness of many other of Mr Gingrich's peers at marching to the party gun before they knew the full facts of the case.

Adding to their discomfort was awareness they were supporting the least popular public figure in the country. One poll this week found that by a 65 per cent to 23 per cent, Americans wanted Mr Gingrich to step aside, a view shared even by 51 per cent of Republican voters.

Either way, therefore, the Democrats come out ahead. If the Speaker had gone down, they would have scored a huge symbolic victory, exacting revenge for the 1989 downfall on ethics charges of their own Speaker, Jim Wright, after a campaign by a bare-knuckled Republican backbencher named Newt Gingrich.

Now that he stays on, he will be a tarred and inevitably reduced figure, less able to bargain from strength with the White House and even with his own barons, the Republican House Committee chairmen. Better still from a Democratic viewpoint, his continuing travails will be cover for President Clinton, embroiled in a host of ethical controversies of his own.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones