Gingrich accepted for second term as Speaker

 

THE United States House of Representatives narrowly re-elected Mr Newt Gingrich as Speaker yesterday after 10 Republican members failed to vote for him. He becomes the first Republican in almost 70 years to be re-elected as Speaker of the House, which has been dominated by Democratic majorities since the 1930s.

Four Republican colleagues of Mr Gingrich cast their votes for other party members to show their disapproval of him as he still faces disciplinary action by the House for breaches of ethics rules.

Even as Mr Gingrich was reelected yesterday, the Ethics Committee began its study of the report of an ethics panel which has already found that the Speaker has brought the House into disrepute. Mr Gingrich has accepted these findings but he still faces further hearings on the matter and a vote of the full House on a suitable punishment.

Any punishment higher than a reprimand would require Mr Gingrich to step down from his post. But it is now regarded as unlikely that a more severe sanction will be voted, so Mr Gingrich will almost certainly survive.

Mr Gingrich has admitted to failure to ensure that funding for a college course he taught did not infringe tax laws. He has also admitted that he gave the ethics panel incorrect information but has blamed this on his lawyer.

Democrats claim that the impending censure of the Speaker will weaken his authority. The post of Speaker is one of the most powerful in the US and ranks as second after the President in the case of an emergency.

There were animated scenes on the floor of the House as the members waited for the outcome of the vote on Speaker. The new or freshmen members had brought their wives and children along so at times there was the odd spectacle of appeals for order from the Chair being drowned out by the crying of babies.

The public galleries were crowded but attempts by onlookers to join in cheers by the members were rebuked by the Chair.

Mr Gingrich had held an at times tense private meeting the previous night with the Republican members to rally their support. He had a serious setback when the highly respected chairman of the House banking committee, Mr Jim Leach, announced that he could not vote for Mr Gingrich because he was "ethically damaged".

Four other Republican members also said that they could not vote for Mr Gingrich. The Republicans have a 19-vote majority in the House, but these five defections would have been serious if they had encouraged a further five Republicans to withhold support.

Several more Republicans abstained when the roll-call vote was taken. Of the 425 votes cast, Mr Gingrich received 216 against 205 by the Democrats for their candidate, Mr Dick Gephardt.

Mr Gingrich absented himself for the vote as is the custom. Earlier as the quorum was being called, he wandered around the floor of the House, patting babies, shaking hands and signing autographs.

In his victory speech, he confessed that during his first term as Speaker he had been "too brash and self-confident". He promised to avoid these faults in the new Congress. A relieved Mr Gingrich also urged the House to "re-think its whole approach to race".

It remains to be seen now if the usually abrasive Speaker will encourage Republicans to work with the Democratic minority to pass legislation which President Clinton is promising to reform social security, balance the Budget and increase educational opportunities for the less well-off.