Gingrich will quit seat in Congress Georgian can't rally enough votes to retain his post as speaker

Might run for president

Party insurrection followed sad showing in Tuesday's election

November 07, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff writer David Folkenflik contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- In the face of a roiling insurrection, Newt Gingrich is giving up his House speakership and will resign from Congress after a 20-year career that brought congressional Republicans from the political wilderness to tenuous control of Capitol Hill.

Gingrich's stunning announcement that he would not seek re-election as speaker came after the Republicans' dismal showing in Tuesday's election, which sparked a full-scale revolt among all factions of the party.

Many members felt strongly that the Republicans need new leadership to maintain control of Congress in 2000.

"The Republican conference needs to be unified, and it is time for me to move forward where I believe I still have a significant role to play," Gingrich said in a statement last night.

"I urge my colleagues to pick leaders who can both reconcile and discipline, who can work together and communicate effectively."

In a conference call with House Republicans, Gingrich said he did not want to be a distraction to the party as Republicans begin to stake their claim to the White House in two years.

The man who once hounded Democrats and nudged aside more senior Republicans in his drive for control told members of his leadership team that he felt Washington politics had become overly riven with hatred and acrimony, a Republican source said.

Rich Galen, director of Gingrich's political action committee, said, "He just made the decision that this is the proper time for him to leave the arena.

"He's going out with his head held high."

Last night, two of Gingrich's political allies, former Reps. Susan Molinari and Vin Weber, said they would not be surprised if Gingrich decided to run for president in 2000.

According to a Republican source, Gingrich decided to step down yesterday within two hours of an announcement by Rep. Robert L. Livingston of Louisiana that he would challenge Gingrich for the speakership.

After furiously making phone calls to try to rally support, a Gingrich spokesman conceded, the speaker received assurances from only a few of the 223 Republican House members.

If just six had refused to back Gingrich when the full House votes on the speakership in January, Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri could conceivably have been elected to lead the House.

Besides Livingston, Rep. Bill Archer of Texas, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and Rep. Christopher Cox of California, the fifth-ranking House Republican, announced last night that they, too, would run for speaker.

Another member being mentioned for the post is James M. Talent of Missouri.

And two conservative Republicans -- Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland and Nick Smith of Michigan -- are drafting Rep. Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, the respected chairman of the Judiciary Committee, to run for speaker.

As prominent Republicans jockeyed for leadership posts, the fate of the Clinton impeachment hearings was again called into question. Hyde had said he would wrap up the process by the end of the year.

Leaderless House

But GOP leaders must decide whether to bring articles of impeachment to a vote in the full House if they are first approved by Hyde's committee.

Livingston said yesterday that the competition for the speakership should have no effect on the impeachment process. But for now, the House is effectively leaderless.

Allies and adversaries alike praised Gingrich's tenure and the way in which he decided to step down. In a statement, President Clinton called Gingrich "a worthy adversary."

"Despite our profound differences," Clinton said, "I appreciate those times we were able to work together in the national interest, especially Speaker Gingrich's strong support for America's continuing leadership for freedom, peace and prosperity in the world."

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican who had been a Gingrich ally but came to believe the party should find new leaders, said, "He could have made this a bloody mess, but he chose to take the high road."

Even had he won a third term as speaker, Gingrich told House Republicans, he would have found it difficult to govern in a House with a razor-thin Republican majority. Gingrich would remain the focus of Democratic attacks, the speaker said, feeding the possibility that the 2000 elections could bring a loss of GOP control of Congress and produce an Al Gore presidency.

After Gingrich's comments, a few Republicans thanked Gingrich for his efforts, but none sought to dissuade him from his decision.

It was the announcement by Livingston, the popular chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, that pushed Gingrich over the edge yesterday.

The announcement ensured a divisive, fratricidal battle that would likely have ended Gingrich's tenure in humiliating fashion, four years after he orchestrated the conservative drive that carried Republicans to control of Congress for the first time in 40 years.

Back to teaching

According to friends, Gingrich will leave Congress and return to teaching history at the college level.

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