House Republicans today narrowly elected archconservative Rep. Newt Gingrich to the post of minority whip, a move toward the politics of confrontation that the Georgia congressman represents.
“It’s more a commentary that the party is ready to be aggressive and dynamic and reach out and (that) they wanted a new definition,” Gingrich said after his two-vote election victory over veteran Rep. Edward R. Madigan of Illinois.
The vote in a closed caucus at the Capitol Hill Club was 87-85, with one ballot cast for “other.” One of the 174 House Republicans was not present.
Gingrich appeared later at a news conference at the side of GOP House leader Bob Michel, the voice of the moderates who have ruled the GOP in its decades of minority status in the House. Michel had quietly backed Madigan for the job.
Gingrich sought to play down differences in his party. “I think you will find this to be a team effort,” he said. “It’s not a conservative activist victory. It is the entire Republican team.
“If this election had been a test of Bob Michel’s leadership I wouldn’t have gotten 40 votes,” Gingrich added. “If Bob Michel stood up and said, ‘This is a test of my leadership, a vote of confidence in me,’ he would have, A, won, and B, I would have withdrawn.”
Gingrich replaces Dick Cheney of Wyoming, who resigned his House seat and the No. 2 post in the House GOP leadership to become secretary of defense.
Cheney addressed the meeting briefly before Rep. Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, who had been the subject of a draft attempt, asked that he not be considered because he had not announced for the post.
Before the vote, the Madigan-Gingrich race had been viewed as an indicator of whether the party would seek the cooperative relations that President Bush espouses or declare war on the Democrats, who greatly outnumber them in the House.
Gingrich, 45, appealed to the Republican House members with a pitch that he is a “national Republican” who will lead them from the desert of more than three decades in the minority.
Gingrich’s strident attacks on House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.), which led to an ethics committee investigation, gained him backing among Republicans of all ideological stripes who sought to lash out in frustration.
But Gingrich is also personally controversial, and as the election approached he was fighting off questions about an unusual deal in which he got political supporters to help finance publicity for a book he had published.
Madigan, 53, was the favorite of what one member called “the institutional Republicans.” He insisted that within the House, Republicans needed to make themselves players in the legislative game, sometimes working with the Democrats. He said Republicans’ best shot at taking over the House is with redistricting, candidate recruitment and financing--not trying to bring down the House.
While Gingrich was holding news conferences about his candidacy, Madigan worked quietly, without ever directly attacking Gingrich.