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Gingrich Assails Self, Democrats

TIMES STAFF WRITER

House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Sunday blamed the collapse of the Republican agenda in Congress on mistakes and overreaching on his part combined with “the most amazing barrage of false advertising” by the Democrats.

“How can you design an entire ad campaign to frighten senior citizens, 75- and 85-year-old Americans, with false information, scaring them that they are going to lose their Medicare coverage?” the Georgia Republican said on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press.” The Republican proposal would have increased Medicare spending 7% per year, yet it was characterized as “cuts” and “slashes” in ads prepared by the White House, he said.

“It’s really almost unimaginable for a president to deliberately design that kind of demagogic campaign,” Gingrich complained.

Sunday’s appearance by the embattled House speaker marked a return to the combative, high-voltage style that characterized his rise to power. In recent months, Gingrich avoided the spotlight as polls indicated that he was drawing an increasingly unfavorable reaction from the public and perhaps undermining the GOP agenda in the process.

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His comments Sunday put him back in the fray, supporting a new Republican campaign assault on Democratic positions as untruthful and President Clinton as of suspect character.

In other comments during Sunday’s interview, Gingrich:

* Said he would not attend the wedding if his half-sister Candace, a lesbian, were to marry another woman. “I wouldn’t regard it as a marriage. We as a society have an interest in strengthening classic, traditional marriages and defining that marriage, I think, as a man and a woman.”

* Said Clinton is making a “dangerous” mistake by voicing support for Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin’s reelection bid. He said Clinton had erred by expressing support for recently defeated Prime Minister Shimon Peres before the balloting in Israel. “The American nation cannot reach across the planet and pick the leadership of other countries.” Moreover, a show of support from the U.S. president may well backfire and hurt Yeltsin, he said.

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* Accused Clinton of being blatantly dishonest in his public statements. Asked if the president was “a man of integrity who tells the truth,” Gingrich said, “No. The president of the United States has consistently, systematically said false things” about the GOP’s Medicare proposal. He “should lead the country. He should not mislead it.”

* Blamed the news media for failing to point out misleading statements by Democrats. “The media just sort of goes blank,” he said.

During the Medicare controversy, Democrats and Republicans both offered plans for reforming Medicare that would have trimmed the projected rates of growth in spending. The Republican plan provided for greater savings, though with costs still well above current levels, and Gingrich charged that the news media allowed the Democrats to portray these as cuts.

For his own part, Gingrich admitted his “mistakes” involved being “too rambunctious” in pursuing a wide-ranging conservative agenda when the Republicans took power in January 1995.

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“I don’t think I was prepared adequately, frankly, to handle the level of responsibility and the level of prominence that you get,” he said.

*

Shortly after the program, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Missouri) responded to Gingrich’s comments, accusing him of distorting the record.

“This morning, Newt Gingrich had 101 excuses for the public backlash to his Medicare plan. But in reality, there was really one only reason: Seniors didn’t want their premiums doubled and their choice of doctor revoked to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy,” Gephardt said.

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