Gingrich sounds like his minority self

January 21, 1995|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun Sun staff writer Karen Hosler contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Newt Gingrich returned yesterday to the brawling, bomb-throwing style for which he has long been known, delivering a blistering attack on Democrats, the press, even first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mr. Gingrich, addressing the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee, dug in his heels against Democrats who have demanded that he relinquish a lucrative book contract, accusing them of lying and engaging in "grotesque and disgusting" tactics.

"I am a genuine revolutionary; they are the genuine reactionaries," he said of his critics. "We're going to change their world. They will do anything to stop us. They will use any tool. There is no grotesquerie, no distortion, no dishonesty too great for them to come after us."

Although a few Republicans in attendance suggested that Mr. Gingrich abandon his book deal, saying it had become too much of a distraction to the GOP agenda, the speaker gave no indication that he plans to follow that advice.

"I'm going to write a book," he said. "I don't know if it's going to be a good book or a bad book. . . . People want to buy it, Marianne [his wife] and I will probably do pretty well. People don't want to buy it, we probably won't do very well.

"This is a system called free enterprise. The socialists in the Democratic Party don't quite get it."

In a remark that provoked cheers, banging on tables and finally a standing ovation, the Georgia Republican took a swipe at Mrs. Clinton and her $100,000 profit in the late 1970s from commodities trading.

"Now I know there are important Democrats in this city who would have automatically turned down $4.5 million," he said of the book advance he decided last month to forgo. "They would say, 'I can make too much money in cattle futures.' "

Mr. Gingrich tried last month to silence the uproar over his contract with the HarperCollins publishing house by giving up the advance and agreeing to take only royalties -- which could run into the millions -- from the sale of the two books he had contracted to produce.

But the controversy has continued to build, in part because HarperCollins is owned by media magnate Rupert Murdoch, who has business interests at stake before Congress and federal legislators.

In a related matter, Mr. Gingrich and House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt agreed yesterday to retain 10 members from the previous House ethics committee to review an ethics charge brought against Mr. Gingrich last year.

The allegation -- brought by Ben Jones, a former Georgia congressman who ran against Mr. Gingrich last year -- relates to the funding and design of a college course the speaker teaches at a small private college outside Atlanta.

Mr. Gingrich has the authority to name new members to the committee. By refraining from doing so, he avoids the appearance of selecting members who would be more sympathetic to him.

The holdover panel, which includes Baltimore Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin, will remain intact until the Gingrich matter is resolved -- reviewing any other cases that come before it in the meantime -- and then will be replaced.

Republican leaders, who gathered here in an otherwise jubilant mood, criticized the Democrats for seizing on the book deal in an attempt to divert attention from substantive issues and demonize the speaker.

Many acknowledged that the controversy was, in fact, diverting attention. And some, including Texas state Republican Chairman Tom Pauken, said they thought Mr. Gingrich should break the deal.

"My recommendation is put it on the back burner for the time being," Mr. Pauken said. "There's plenty of time to get a book out in the future."

Richard C. Cecil, president of the National Conference of Republican County Officials, agreed. "He's got to figure out a way to get the issue behind him and off the front pages," said Mr. Cecil. "He's spending a great deal of time on this issue. I think he should be a full-time speaker and maybe write the book after his term."

Republican National Chairman Haley Barbour offered no advice, saying the decision had to be made by the speaker himself: "It's his choice."

In Mr. Gingrich's fiery hourlong speech, he cautioned the Republicans that the Democrats would try to obstruct their agenda. "They're going to lie," he said.

Recounting his history in the House of demanding penalties, even the expulsion, of colleagues who had violated ethics rules -- including former Speaker Jim Wright -- he said he was "sickened" by comparisons between his book deal and one related to Mr. Wright's downfall. "Jim Wright was a crook," he said.

Mr. Wright resigned the speakership and his congressional seat after the ethics committee in 1989 charged him with 69 violations of House rules relating to his book and other business matters.

He has denied any wrongdoing, and no criminal charges were brought against him.

Mr. Gingrich said that despite the "nagging, nitpicking and personal attacks" of the Democrats, the Republicans would ultimately triumph. "They can scream," he said of the Democrats, "as the parade goes by."

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