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Gingrich Re-elected Speaker In Spite of Looming Troubles

By John E. Yang
The Washington Post

Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) was re-elected House speaker Tuesday after a frantic lobbying campaign that convinced all but nine House Republicans that his ethical violations should not deprive him of another term.

Gingrich won with three votes to spare in a dramatic, hour-long roll call as 216 of the 225 House Republicans voting supported him. House GOP leaders worked to the end to round up the votes needed to make him the first Republican re-elected speaker in 68 years.

Four GOP lawmakers voted for other candidates and five voted "present." House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) won the votes of 204 Democrats and independent Rep. Bernard Sanders (Vt.). Following tradition, Gephardt voted "present" and Gingrich, who was not in the chamber for the roll call, did not vote.

The vote ended two weeks of uncertainty over Gingrich's re-election that arose when some House Republicans questioned the political wisdom of backing him after he acknowledged Dec. 21 that he broke House rules. The full details of the House ethics committee's investigation of Gingrich and the panel's recommended sanction for him will not be known until next week.

Gingrich admitted to charges that he brought discredit to the House. Specifically, the panel faulted Gingrich for failing to check with lawyers to make sure the financing of a college course he taught and a televised town-hall meeting would not violate federal tax law. Then, when the ethics committee investigated those projects, Gingrich gave the panel false information, the speaker acknowledged. He said the violations were not intentional and resulted from inattention.

The ethics committee is to meet Wednesday to begin the process of recommending a punishment. In addition, the Internal Revenue Service is also looking into the financing of the college course, and the ethics committee has not resolved complaints that Gingrich received improper gifts, support, and contributions from GOPAC, a political action committee he once headed.

The ethics matter resulted in bitterly partisan rancor on the House floor last year, as Democrats sought to tarnish the speaker as part of their bid to retake the House. In a closed- door session with House Republicans Monday night, Gingrich blamed Democrats for his ethics problems.

Democrats sought to delay the vote for speaker until after the ethics case had been resolved. Republicans blocked that on a 222 to 210 vote.

Less than an hour after Gingrich was re-elected speaker, partisan skirmish erupted over the schedule for the ethics committee's consideration of a recommended punishment for Gingrich.

Late last year, the panel and House leaders agreed the House would vote on the sanction by Jan. 21. But Tuesday, the investigative subcommittee asked the House for more time.

House GOP leaders objected. House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Texas) said that if the members on the panel were "professional, capable, and able people" they would be able to get their work done by the original deadline.

In return, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) charged that Republicans wanted to vote on Gingrich's penalty on Jan. 20, when it would be overshadowed by President Clinton's inauguration, as part of their "political damage control."

The House rebuffed the panel's request, 223 to 205. The two GOP members of the investigative panel were the only Republicans to support the schedule change.

The vote for speaker proceeded routinely, with Republicans declaring "Gingrich" and Democrats saying "Gephardt," until the 54th name was called. Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Calif.) rose and, his voice quavering slightly, called out: "Jim Leach of Iowa," the House banking committee chairman who had announced his opposition to Gingrich's re-election the day before.

Rep. Michael P. Forbes (R-N.Y.) also voted for Leach. Leach himself voted for former House GOP leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.), and Rep. Linda A. Smith (R-Wash.) voted for former representative Robert S. Walker (R-Pa.), a close Gingrich friend.

House GOP leaders have said there would be retribution for colleagues who voted against Gingrich. Tuesday the speaker said: "To those of you who voted for someone else, I hope that I can work with you in such a way that you feel that I am capable of being speaker of the whole House and representing everyone."