Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was never known for holding his fire, and in a press conference announcing his retirement the liberal lawmaker saved some of his most memorable barbs for former House speaker and now presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.
“I did not think I lived a good enough life to see Newt Gingrich as the Republican nominee,” the 30-year House veteran said. “He would be the best thing to happen to Democrats since Barry Goldwater ... It’s still unlikely, but I have hopes.”
The pair have been snapping at each other since the 1980s, when Gingrich was rising to power in Congress and Frank was among the Democrats trying to cut him down. For years, Frank has blamed Gingrich for the partisan divide on Capitol Hill.
A fresh battle started brewing between the two ex-colleagues when in a an October presidential debate, Gingrich said that the former House Financial Services chairman deserved to be jailed, along with former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), over the financial crisis, saying, “Look at the lobbyists he was close to at, at, at, uh at, uh, Freddie Mac.”
Frank returned fire after reports that Gingrich received hefty consulting fees from Freddie Mac after leaving Congress, calling him “a man with no ethical core whatsoever.” Frank later added that Gingrich was a “lobbyist and liar,” as well as “fundamentally intellectually dishonest.”
But the enmity between the two men goes back way farther than that. It appears to date to at least 1989, when a Gingrich aide spread rumors about the sex life of then-Speaker of the House Thomas Foley (D-Wash.). Gingrich said then that the aide, Karen Van Brocklin, was no longer allowed to speak to reporters.
"There are a lot of people in Washington who would consider that a
perk, not a punishment," Frank responded.
Gingrich had just helped oust the previous speaker of the House, Jim Wright (D-Texas), a power play that helped him win a leadership position in the House GOP.
“Newt has made a career out of attacking people around here and trying to rip them apart,” Frank told the New York Times.
In 1990, when the House Ethics Committee recommended that Frank be reprimanded over a scandal involving a prostitution ring run by the Democratic lawmaker’s live-in boyfriend, Gingrich pushed (unsuccessfully) for the stiffer punishment of censure
Over the years, the two continued to clash. When Gingrich opposed job protections for gay workers, Frank called him “one of the most energetic homophobics” in Congress. He repeatedly questioned Gingrich’s use of parliamentary tactics as speaker.
In a 1995 speech to the Republican National Committee, Gingrich declared: “Barney Frank hates me.”
Frank told Mother Jones that same year, “I despise Gingrich because of the negative effect he has had on American politics.”
He elaborated to biographer Stuart Weisberg, saying Gingrich had helped destroy bipartisan cooperation in the House and was “the meanest and most destructive political figure I have ever seen.”
The fact that Gingrich was easily offended, “the thinnest-skinned character assassin I ever met,” Frank added, “just encouraged me to keep going after him.”
So maybe even retirement won’t make him stop.