KWAME HOLMAN: There isn't much drama normally associated with the opening of a new Congress.
SPOKESMAN: We're going to get everybody on the steps to do a group picture.here isn't much drama normally associated with the opening of a new Congress.
KWAME HOLMAN: Traditionally, most of the focus is on the new members. They've joined an exclusive 200-year-old institution, and forever they will hold a place in American history. It's an experience shared with family and friends and on the House side culminates with the swearing in all 435 elected representatives.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH: Congratulations. You are now all members of the United States Government.
KWAME HOLMAN: The election of the House Speaker also is part of the opening day tradition, but with Speaker Newt Gingrich enmeshed in the case before the Ethics Committee and several Republicans threatening to vote against him, this opening day took on the drama of a high wire act. House Republican leaders held one last closed door meeting this morning, one last chance to appeal to wavering members, one last chance to count the votes in support of Gingrich's re-election as Speaker. It was Iowa Republican Jim Leach, the respected chairman of the Banking Committee, who yesterday announced he too would not vote for Gingrich because of the pending Ethics Committee case.
Going into this morning's meeting it wasn't clear how many other members would be influenced by Leach's decision. Coming out of the meeting the answer appeared to be not enough to cause Gingrich the Speakership.
SPOKESMAN: I think it looks very good for the Speaker.
SPOKESMAN: We're pretty optimistic--first ballot.
REP. VIC FAZIO, (D) California: Madam Clerk, I rise to a question of the highest constitutional privilege.
KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon when the House did proceed to the election of a Speaker, California Democrat Vic Fazio tried to delay actions until the Ethics Committee completes its work.
REP. VIC FAZIO: The resolution requires the House to proceed immediately to the election of an interim Speaker who will preside over the House until that time.
KWAME HOLMAN: But that attempt was voted down.
SPOKESPERSON: The role will now be called.
KWAME HOLMAN: Just after 1 o'clock the roll call of members began. The normally boisterous chamber was eerily silent. All of the Democrats cast their votes for their leader, Richard Gephardt. And while the vast majority of Republicans voted for Gingrich, every so often there was a vote of dissent.
SPOKESMAN: Campbell of California.
KWAME HOLMAN: Tom Campbell of California voted for Jim Leach, so did Michael Forbes of New York. Leach, himself, voted for the former and now retired Republican leader Bob Michel, while another retired member, Bob Walker of Pennsylvania, also received a vote. Five Republicans, including Gingrich, himself, voted "present." The roll call lasted 35 minutes. Four House members were selected to certify the vote, which took another 20 agonizing minutes. Finally, the Clerk of the House announced the results.
ROBIN CARLE, Clerk of the House: The tellers agree in their tallies that the total number of votes cast for a person by name is 425 of which the Honorable Newt Gingrich of the state of Georgia has received 216. The Honorable Richard A. Gephardt of the state of Missouri has received 205. The Honorable James Leach of the state of Iowa has received two votes. The Honorable Robert Michel has received one vote. The Honorable Robert Walker has received one vote, which six voting "present." Therefore, the Honorable Newt Gingrich of the state of Georgia, having received a majority of all votes cast by name for a candidate, is duly elected Speaker of the House of Representatives for the 105th Congress. (applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: Gingrich did not receive the votes of the majority of House members but did get the majority of votes cast. During his acceptance speech, Gingrich spoke of his ethics problems and spoke to those who voted for and against him.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH: Let me say to those who voted for me from the bottom of my heart, thank you. To those who voted for someone else, I hope that I can work with you in such a way that you feel that I am capable of being Speaker of the whole House and representing everyone. Let me say to the entire House that two years ago when I became the first Republican Speaker in 40 years to the degree I was too brash, too self-confident, or too pushy, I apologize. To whatever degree in any way that I have brought controversy or inappropriate attention to the House, I apologize. This has been a very difficult time. And to those who agonized and ended up voting for me I thank you.
Some of this difficulty, frankly, I brought on myself. We will deal with that in more detail later, and I apologize to the House and the country for having done so. Some of it is part of the natural process of partisan competition. This morning a very dear friend of mine said that he was going to pray to God that I would win today. And I asked him not to. I asked him to pray to God that whatever happens is what God wants, and then we would try to understand it and learn from it. Let me put that forward in the same thing for all of us as we approach the next two years.
We have much to be proud of as Americans. This is a great and a wonderful system. We have much to be ashamed of as Americans, from drug addiction to spouse and child abuse, to children living in ignorance and poverty, surrounded by the greatest, wealthiest nation in the world, to a political system that clearly has to be overhauled from the ground up if it is going to be worthy of the respect we want and cherish. I would just suggest to all of you that until we learn in a non-sectarian way, not Baptist, not Catholic, not Jewish, in a non-sectarian way, until we learn to re-establish the authority that we are endowed by our Creator, that we owe it to our creator, and that we need to seek divine guidance in what we are doing, we are not going to solve this country's problems. (applause) In that spirit, with your prayers and help, I will seek to be worthy of being Speaker of the House, and I will seek to work with every member sent by their constituents to represent them in the United States Congress. (applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: Though he won his historic re-election, Gingrich still faces possible punishment by the House, as well as the potential of further investigations of the ethics matters by the Internal Revenue Service and perhaps the Justice Department.