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Gingrich Accuses Democrats of Personal Destruction Tactics

January 19, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ House Speaker Newt Gingrich accused Democrats today of using a strategy of ``personal destruction″ against him rather than debating Republicans on the issues.

A day after bitter shouting matches on the House floor over Democratic criticism of the speaker, a feisty Gingrich said he finds the opposition tactics ``pretty sobering in America.″

``I expect Democrats to take every shot they can get,″ Gingrich told his regular, pre-session news conference. He quoted from a column saying Democrats were trying to ``destroy Gingrich″ and added:

``I think a strategy based on the personal destruction of somebody is pretty amazing if its a genuine strategy. They’re not used to being in the opposition. They’re not used to having to obey the rules and it’s a new experience for them.″

Before Gingrich spoke, representatives of both parties went at it again in television interviews.

``It seems to me you’re just seeing a play here of people who have decided that disruptive tactics will substitute for their lack of ideas,″ Gingrich ally Rep. Robert Walker, R-Pa., said on Fox Morning News.

Rep. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., appearing with Walker, responded: ``What you saw yesterday is that absolute power breeds an arrogance. ... We will not permit ourselves to be gagged. We will not create precedence for stopping free speech on the House floor.″

A group of House Republicans, tired of Democrats’ vitriolic scoldings of the speaker’s book deal, went to the chamber Wednesday ready to defend their leader.

Their plan went awry when one of their own tried to silence the critics. Suddenly, the Republicans were addressing two issues: the book deal that began with a $4.5 million advance, and the right of Democrats to criticize the speaker inside the House chamber.

Neither issue _ nor the acrimony that fueled two hours of shouting _ will go away anytime soon.

Wednesday’s session turned into pandemonium in an instant when Walker interrupted the first Democrat to attack Gingrich.

He demanded that the words of Rep. Carrie Meek, D-Fla., be stricken from the official record because House rules did not permit personal attacks on the speaker.

Meek said the ``perception of impropriety, not to mention the potential conflict of interest ... cannot be ignored.″

Gingrich made his deal with HarperCollins, a publisher owned by media magnate Rupert Murdoch, who is seeking congressional support for a TV station ownership dispute before the Federal Communications Commission. Gingrich and Murdoch met Nov. 28 before the book deal was concluded, admitting they discussed the ownership issue briefly.

Murdoch said he was unaware of the book deal and Gingrich said he didn’t know Murdoch owned HarperCollins. After an initial uproar, Gingrich gave up the advance and agreed to take royalties based on book sales.

Walker, on a party line vote, had Meek’s remarks stricken from the record, but he infuriated Democrats.

``This is not the Reichstag,″ Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., said, referring to the German parliament under the Third Reich. ``This is the house of the people.″

Decorum broke down. Members shouted at each other through competing microphones. Though it wasn’t the fight they expected, a group of Walker’s supporters gathered in back of him, like a football team with its coach _ and glared at the Democratic side.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said it’s becoming ``more and more permissible to criticize the (British) royal family″ but ``less and less permissible to criticize the speaker of the House.″

Rep. John Linder, like Gingrich a Georgia Republican, said the original plan was to simply respond in kind each time a Democrat made a speech attacking Gingrich.

``We’re not going to let him be beat up,″ he said, admitting it wasn’t in the original plan to be defending an attempt to silence the Democrats.

Several Republicans did get to use their original lines. ``The other side ... is trying every tactic they can to stop the `Contract With America,‴ said Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas.

Rep. Vic Fazio, D-Calif., told reporters outside the chamber, ``The gag rule is a travesty. They’ve been wounded. They’re finding the book deal has legs.″

When a Republican came off the floor to defend Gingrich’s position, Fazio moved toward the GOP member and engaged in a debate with crowds of reporters around.

Walker, for his part, said he hadn’t planned his move in advance, adding that he hadn’t been on the floor when more scathing attacks were made the past two weeks.

Asked what was permissible, he said, ``You can talk generally about book deals. You cannot criticize in a way that personalizes the issue.″

Two Democrats who overheard that remark laughed.

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