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JIM LEHRER: That Republican mutiny in the House of Representatives. Kwame Holman begins our update.
SPOKESMAN: The gentleman is recognized for one hour.
KWAME HOLMAN: Last April, Speaker Newt Gingrich stood in the well of the House and explained at length his decision to borrow money from Bob Dole in order to pay a $300,000 penalty for violating House ethics rules.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH, Speaker of the House: This House is at the center of freedom, and it deserves from all of us a commitment to be worthy of that honor. Today, I am doing what I can to personally live up to that calling and that standard. I hope my colleagues will join me in that quest. May God bless this House and may God bless America. Thank you. (applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: After barely surviving the fall elections with the Republican House Majority in place, Gingrich was moving to rebuild his legendary reputation born of the Republican revolution he engineered in 1994. But on a handful of occasions in the months to come a small but vocal group of dissidents in the ranks variously vexed, criticized, and even publicly challenged Gingrich’s leadership.
The loose affiliation of independent-minded dissidents contains at least these members, all two- or three-term conservatives, both from the South and West, and with strong approval ratings in their home districts. They voice the concern of other conservatives that Gingrich has become too much of a moderate, too willing to capitulate to President Clinton and the Democrats in budget negotiations and policy matters. But through the dust up with the dissident group, Gingrich maintains the public support of his leadership team.
REP. DICK ARMEY, Majority Leader: The speaker is running the House. The speaker is the speaker, and he has the respect and the admiration and support of a majority and many people in the minority.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, Conference Chairman: Certainly, we’ve had our share of disagreements, but the family is getting along fine.
REP. TOM DELAY, Majority Whip: The speaker is the speaker. He will continue to be the speaker, and those opponents of Speaker Gingrich, too bad; he’s going to continue to be speaker.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH: We believe we’re very close to having it worked out and hope in the next few hours to be able to announce and then move a supplemental appropriations bill to provide the flood aid.
KWAME HOLMAN: But then came Gingrich’s decision last month to give in to the President in a high-profile public relations battle over Midwestern flood aid. A few weeks later, according to a story in last Wednesday’s edition of The Hill newspaper some of the dissidents met with some or all of Gingrich’s lieutenants and discussed ousting Gingrich as speaker. The plan was abandoned, but reportedly involved Dick Armey, the elected majority leader; Tom Delay, the majority whip; John Boehner, the conference chairman; and Bill Paxon, appointed by Gingrich to chair leadership meetings and reported to be the dissidents’ first choice to replace Gingrich. He resigned that post last Thursday. All four men have denied backing Gingrich’s overthrow. Paxon did so Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
REP. BILL PAXON, (R) New York: At no time have I ever been involved in effort to overthrow the speaker that I worked so hard to elect. Tim, the speaker appointed me to serve in the leadership to help solve problems. Last week, I tried to work to defuse a problem that you’ve noted. Mistakes were made. I made mistakes in the way I tried to handle the defusing of this problem, specifically, didn’t inform the speaker of the problem early enough and certainly didn’t anticipate when it blew up that it would have the impact that it did on our agenda and on our conference.
KWAME HOLMAN: On ABC’s “This Week” two of the leading dissidents said they were willing to wait, but Gingrich’s lieutenants advocated his immediate ouster. Representative Matt Salmon said conference Chairman Tom Delay promised to support a floor vote against Gingrich.
REP. MATT SALMON, (R) Arizona: There were 17 of us in that meeting, including Tom Delay, and I can tell you unequivocally that the 17 members that were in that room with Tom Delay had that impression; that we walked out believing completely that that was Tom Delay’s intent.
KWAME HOLMAN: Now that it appears to be over for now, the speaker’s office said today Gingrich plans no action against Delay or the other remaining members of the leadership. For his part, Gingrich said yesterday, at a meeting of business leaders in his suburban Atlanta home district, “You know I don’t quit. We are doing fine. We have to calmly keep our eye on the ball.” A group that includes many of the rebels reportedly will meet tonight. The full House GOP Conference has its regular meeting tomorrow morning.