Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), the second-ranking House Republican leader, said yesterday he will push the House to censure Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) for actions linked to his relationship to a male prostitute, rather than support a simple reprimand as recommended last week by the House ethics committee.

At a Capitol Hill news conference, Gingrich said he would either lead or support a move to censure Frank, an action that would strip Frank of a subcommittee chairmanship if a majority of the House goes along.

"Censure is the minimum appropriate action," Gingrich said. He cited the ethics committee's finding that Frank included misleading information on the prostitute, Stephen L. Gobie, in a memo that later went to an official involved in supervising Gobie's probation on drug and sex offense convictions.

"You have a Judiciary subcommittee chairman, the author of an ethics in government act, lying to probation officers," said Gingrich, the House GOP whip. "That is a standard Congress can't accept."

Because the memo was written on Frank's congressional stationery, Gingrich said, Frank used his "office in a way that totally violates the public trust."

The House Republican leader, Rep. Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.), also indicated yesterday he may support censure. His "first inclination" is to "do something stronger" than a reprimand, although he has not yet read the ethics committee report, he said.

The GOP leaders' move adds more uncertainty to a contentious floor battle expected Thursday, when the House is set to vote on the ethics panel's recommendation. Democrats fear the Republicans want to use the vote as a campaign issue in this fall's election because it involves the politically volatile subject of Frank's acknowledged homosexuality.

Gingrich yesterday denied that Frank's sexual preference had anything to do with his decision.

"It has nothing to do with sex. It has to do with breaking the law and misinforming officers of the court," Gingrich said. But he added, "all votes are potentially political" and argued, "it's a legitimate question what values Congress should have."