Gingrich Says He Wants to Avoid Turmoil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 10, 1998; Page A23
House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), in a valedictory address before many of his most loyal supporters, said last night he decided to resign as speaker to spare his party two years of "divisiveness and factionalism" and encouraged Republicans to rally behind his successor to help move the party forward.
Speaking at a GOPAC dinner, Gingrich said the challenge to his leadership last week forced him to choose between his own interest and his party's.
"On Friday it became clear to me that if I were to stay in the House, I would become an excuse for divisiveness and factionalism," he said. "The ideas are too big, the issues are too important for one person to put their office above the good of the party and the country."
Gingrich called on Republicans to put aside their divisions, and in a public display of unity, embraced the man whose challenge led to his decision to leave an office he had sought for much of his adult life. Gingrich and Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), their arms around each other's shoulders, shook hands, posed for the cameras and smiled broadly, acting as allies rather than adversaries.
"We never had a big majority, but we always stood for big ideas, and that is what made us different," Gingrich said. "If every Republican will pull together for Bob Livingston, these big ideas will continue to move us forward."
Citing the importance of the elections in 2000, Gingrich added, "The image of a President Al Gore and a Democratic Congress should be more than enough to unify us in two years of very diligent hard work."
Gingrich offered few clues about his future, other than to assure his Republican friends he would remain active. "I believe that both in the House and as a party, we need new energy, new teamwork and a willingness to work together," he said. "As for me, public office is not the same as public service. There are many avenues for public life beyond the speakership."
The retiring speaker received a hero's welcome from the GOPAC audience and was interrupted frequently by applause and standing ovations. For a few brief moments, it was almost exactly the way it was four years ago, in the weeks after the Republicans took control of the House for the first time in 40 years. The crowd chanted "Newt, Newt, Newt, Newt" as he stood before them, and he appeared not to want the applause to die down.
But the night was not as emotional as some had predicted it would be. Gingrich kept his composure and plunged forward with a speech aides said he had spent much of the afternoon drafting. Earlier in the day, however, at a private lunch with current and former staff members, he was more emotional about his coming departure from the speaker's office, according to those present.
"It was bittersweet," said Dan Meyer, a former chief of staff to the speaker. "He's very comfortable with the decision. He doesn't fault Livingston in the least. He told me he had a real good conversation with Livingston [Sunday] night and invited him" to the GOPAC dinner.
Meyer said Gingrich bore no ill will toward Livingston in part because he had come to the conclusion that Livingston was right to challenge him for the speaker's post. Gingrich, he said, had reached the conclusion that continuing on as speaker would mean more turmoil within the party, which could have sapped Republican energies and made winning the elections of 2000 more difficult.
Gingrich alluded to those choices several times last night. "It was easy to make Friday's decision," he said. "I had to ask what is right for my party, what is right for my country, and only then what was right for myself."
In his speech last night, the speaker recalled the Republican victory of 1994 and the party's legislative achievements since then. "Again and again, calmly, systematically, we kept our word," he said.
He also used what may be one of the last major speeches he gives as the speaker of the House to lay out a Republican agenda. Ironically, the themes and ideas he stressed last night were the same as those he had spoken about often along the campaign trail this fall. But with Congress focused on impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, the message never got through.
Those issues include Social Security reform, returning part of the budget surplus in the form of tax cuts, a stepped-up war on drugs and school choice -- particularly for children in the worst schools. Gingrich also called for the United States to live up to its responsibilities as the world's lone superpower.
"The United States has no choice but to lead the world because there is no replacement," he said.
Gingrich acknowledged that the results of last week's elections, in which the Republicans lost House seats and failed to gain seats in the Senate, had caught him totally by surprise. "I thought I was in one world at 6 o'clock [on election night] and another world at midnight."
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