INTERVIEW WITH SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:
NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA)

© 1996 Hedrick Smith Productions, Inc.


The New Republican Majority

HS: Why was the 100 days so important?

GINGRICH: Because it unified us and gave us a focus as a revolutionary party so that all the newly arriving freshmen and newly elected chairmen are kept busy doing new things in new ways. So by the time they get used to being in the majority they hadn't just taken it over from the Democrats. You had to have the speed and focus to get it done.
I didn't have to worry about much because Armey was executing it... When it works right, Armey is running the day to day operations and I'm planning it...

SMITH:What was that first day about, then?

GINGRICH: Well, I think it -- I think it was -- uh -- a transfer of authority for the first time in 40 years. It was a symbolic moment of a new team with a new mission and a new contract --

SMITH:You, yourself, said you trained very hard for -- I mean, you had seminars, you went --

GINGRICH: We actually had practice sessions on the House Floor. We had members who practiced being speaker. We had member who practiced,you know, making motions. We had members of who practiced being Democrat obstructing the people who were making the motions-it was a genuine -- just like a football team or a ballet - any American who's been through cheerleader practice or who's been through, you know, baseball practice would understand it and every little league team does it. You know, before you go in the field for real, you ought to go in the field for practice. And it's only in politics that people think that you can change things out of your hip pocket.

SMITH: How important was the contract during election?

GINGRICH: I do not think we would be in the majority without it.

SMITH: You don't?

GINGRICH: You need an organizing, positive focus of some kind, because the country was very mad at Clinton and very mad at politics. And if we had run a negative campaign the country would have been turned off by both us and Clinton. Turnout would have gone down, not up. And it's important to realize, nine million more people voted Republican in 94 than in 90. It's the largest increase for one party in turnout in history for an off year. And it's the first time since 1934 that one party has had a dramatic increase by itself. The Democrats went down by a million. So, the swing was ten million votes...Believe without the contract -- it wasn't just that you ran an ad or you talked about it, but the candidates felt confident, the candidates knew there was a game plan. The candidates knew they were part of a team. And so you had for the last six weeks of the campaign a very positive Republican tone

SMITH: Did the press miss the story?

GINGRICH: Totally. Yeah, the answer is totally. It's interesting to watch the -- the almost flippant cynicism of the press which says on the one hand isn't it terrible that candidates never stand for anything and are always negative and then promptly switch and say isn't it dumb that the Republicans now stand for something, they're being positive. And you see this almost instantly, I mean, it's like no matter which way you go you're not going to get -- you know, you're not going to get a good grade...And -- and from the standpoint of Republicans it was amazing. And I think they never got what we were trying to do. That we were trying to send a signal to America on issues America cares about. They're not issues the elite cares about. They're issues America cares about. They're issues of welfare reform, balanced budget, making the Congress obey the same laws as everybody else. An effective and enforceable death penalty. On every one of those issues, 60 percent or more of the American people were on our side.

Newt Gingrich & The Power of the Speaker

SMITH: Have you demonstrated this year that it's possible to run the American government from the Speaker's office, that you can drive the government from here?

GINGRICH: No, you can shape the government from here, you can't run it. The President runs the government.
If we had a Republican President who shared our values, we would have already passed a balanced budget, we wold have a dramatically reformed military. We'd already ben in the middle of the welfare reform being implemented. I mean, you really can't run the government from up here. You can shape it from up here, but you can't run it --

SMITH:Can you effectively reshape the government if you have partisan divided government?

GINGRICH: No, I don't -- well, you can -- you can effectively shape it despite yourself. But it's -- it's a slow, difficult inefficient way to do it.

SMITH: Why was it so important in appropriations and commerce and judiciary to jump seniority? I have a feeling it was more than just the people there, an important signal about the change in the way business was being done.

GINGRICH:...when we looked at what had to be done -- the Appropriations Committee is probably the hardest committee in the House ..I think that's clearly the hardest job of any committee chairman on our side of the building. And Livingston has done a brilliant job. You -- you wanted somebody -- he's young enough, he's the youngest senior member. -- uh -- he had the -- he had the energy, he had the drive, he had the conservative credentials. He was a guy who could take a committee the freshmen were going to be very skeptical of and create a good working relationship. The Judiciary Committee, frankly, you had sitting right there Henry Hyde. I mean, Henry Hyde is a national figure, he is a great lawyer, he had been our policy chairman, he had a tremendous reputation and the Judiciary Committee was going to carry a whole series of very very important bills and I thought by every standard Henry was just superior and has done a fabulous job. And I think everybody feels very good with Henry at the head of that committee. He had an enormous -- he had about 40 percent of the contract -- was in the Judiciary Committee for the first 100 days. And he has very tough Democratic opponents, people like Schumer and Frank, first rate talents. You really needed somebody very very good.

GINGRICH: Interesting side story, I actually called Coach Joe Paterno and asked his advice. I said, here's what I'm thinking through, here's what I think I need to be doing, but I'm not really confident. And he said, look, he said -- he said, you owe it to the team to put the best 11 folks you can on the field. And I can't -- in our case, I think it's 16, but, you know, but he said he said you've got to decide and you've got -- and he said, you have to carry the moral burden, you're the head coach. And you've got to carry the moral responsibility of fielding the team that can win or you cheat the whole conference. It was a great, very helpful conversation. We talked at some length about it in December of last year.

White House and Congress: Confrontation vs. Compromise

SMITH: You're now at a stage where it takes compromise. Do you find that you have freshmen who have modeled themselves on Newt Gingrich who are a bit of a problem to you at the moment and you have to compromise?

GINGRICH: No. I mean, there's -- we're all on the same team.

SMITH: You don't all agree.

GINGRICH: No, but I'm not going to compromise what they wouldn't feel comfortable with. I said on the Friday after the election, we will cooperate, but we will not compromise. And that's our basicframework. I mean, we try to help the President where we can, but we don't compromise. We're not in that business. We are not traditional politicians.

GINGRICH: We had taken a gamble that given the excuse of government shutting down, Clinton would move to the center and sign a balanced budget and sign welfare reform and sign tax cuts. And he didn't. I think we all thought he would cave. We all thought that he was strategically in a position where vetoing a balanced budget and vetoing welfare reform and vetoing tax cuts was almost irrational.
...my basic point was if, you know -- if they wanted somebody who would preside over chaos, they needed somebody else. If we're going to go back to where the Democrats and have tiny fiefdomes and ineffective Congresses and get nothing done, they just need a new Speaker. And I mean it wasn't a threat, it was just a statement of either we're going to be the party that stays together and when we make mistakes we recover together, when something doesn't work out we fix it together -- uh -- or we're going to collapse

GINGRICH: I think that it cost us a lot more than we thought it would and in the end it didn't gain much.

GINGRICH: I think my answer then was you can't run the government. You can shape it. You can have tremendous impact from the Legislative Branch. And strategically I think -- that we are, in fact, winning some big fights. But I think that it's a longer, slower, harder process that than we expected. Well, I mean, if we knew the outcome in advance, no, of course, not. If you knew you weren't going to get an honest balanced budget, if you knew that you couldn't get a signature on a bill that really reformed welfare, if you knew you were going to get tax cuts vetoed and if you knew that, in fact, it was a hopeless exercise because the liberals would not tolerate real change, obviously, you'd design a totally different strategy.
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© 1996 Hedrick Smith Productions, Inc.