Gingrich lashes out at capital's 'sick' culture

January 06, 1995|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Without the Democrats to kick around, at least during this honeymoon period of bipartisanship, new House Speaker Newt Gingrich quickly seized upon another target yesterday: the Washington culture of media, lobbyists and bureaucrats.

At each of his public appearances -- after a White House meeting with President Clinton, at a Library of Congress unveiling of a computer system to put Congress on-line, and testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee -- the speaker lambasted Washington's "sick, out-of-touch culture" that, he said, "wants us to fail."

It was a "tired" Mr. Gingrich who was followed yesterday by a huge media throng that tracked his every move. He had arrived home at 3 a.m. after a marathon opening day that he called "extraordinary," got up at 8 o'clock and headed out for another day in the spotlight.

After a morning session at the White House with Mr. Clinton and the new House and Senate leaders, Mr. Gingrich described the meeting as "very, very positive" and said there was "a very real willingness to try to find a way to try to work together."

But when asked a question about any areas of difference, Mr. Gingrich attacked the news media, accusing it of "trying to get a catfight started."

"I'm just tired of it," he said. "There's no point in you all being destructive. We had a positive meeting. . . . This is a different era with different ground rules. We are doing different things."

After his meeting with Mr. Clinton, their first since the flap over a CBS interview in which the speaker's mother said her son thinks first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is a "bitch," Mr. Gingrich denounced anchorwoman Connie Chung.

In the TV interview, which aired last night, Kathleen Gingrich offered the remark after Ms. Chung prodded her, saying: "Why don't you just whisper it to me, just between you and me."

When asked if he had apologized to the president, he snapped back: "You have no idea what I called Mrs. Clinton because I have never commented on any of those things, and I won't."

For his part, Mr. Clinton tried to make light of the episode. At the meeting with Mr. Gingrich and other congressional leaders, he laughed when a reporter asked him: "Between you and me, is it going to be compromise or combat?"

"My answer to that is, Mr. Gingrich will whisper into your right ear and I will whisper into your left ear," he said. Then, putting a hand on Mr. Gingrich's arm, he added, "God knows what she could've gotten my mother to say."

Adding to Mr. Gingrich's media anxiety was a front-page article in yesterday's Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, reporting that a biomedical company that benefited from a letter the Georgian wrote to the White House last fall later contributed to a foundation that funds the college course Mr. Gingrich teaches.

A spokesman for Mr. Gingrich said that neither the congressman nor the foundation solicited the money, but the contribution could appear to be a financial "thank you," the newspaper noted.

At the Library of Congress, Mr. Gingrich joined Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in unveiling a computer system that gives the public access to congressional bills and information via the Internet.

Mr. Gingrich hailed the new system, named "Thomas" after Thomas Jefferson, saying it would "change the balance of power" in the nation by giving the public access to information traditionally available only to lawmakers, lobbyists and the press.

He said the new system would counter the negativity of the press.

"There is a pervasive cynicism to the culture of Washington, which fortunately doesn't exist for most of America," he said.

"And part of what this is going to do is get legislative information and legislative materials beyond the cynicism of the elite."

Despite his push for a balanced budget amendment, Mr. Gingrich, a former history teacher and avid reader, proposed increased funding for the Library of Congress, calling it the "seminal knowledge-disseminating system in the planet."

Later, speaking before the first meeting of the new, GOP-led House Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Gingrich returned to his day's theme.

Mr. Gingrich cautioned the committee that the city of Washington "wants us to fail."

"If we allow the lobbyists and the press culture of this city and the bureaucrats of this city to guarantee that we fight, we will get nothing done and we will be one more failed Congress leading to one more bitter election," he said. "It is a sick, out-of-touch culture, and we have to reach beyond it to the American people and work with them."

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