New Hampshire Dems Walk Out Of Gingrich Speech To Legislature
It's the House speaker's third visit to N.H. in a month
By John King/CNN
MANCHESTER, N.H. (May 7) -- New Hampshire Democrats staged an angry walkout during a speech to a joint session of the state legislature by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) Thursday morning.
As Gingrich began to speak about the controversial subjects of Clinton confidant Webster Hubbell and the rule of law, at least a dozen Democratic members of the legislature left the chamber, hissing and hooting.
The walkout came just as Gingrich was talking about more than $700,000 in payments made to Hubbell after he resigned from the Justice Department.
"People can walk out, but what I'm saying is a fact about a crime," Gingrich said.
Just prior to the walkout, Gingrich said, "If a crime has been committed, the American people have a right to know ... No one is above the law and that includes the president of the United States." The speaker said that as the nation's chief law enforcement officer, the president had an obligation not only to obey the law but to aggressively support investigations of alleged wrong-doing.
Gingrich slammed House Democrats for refusing to support immunity for four witnesses in the investigation of 1996 White House fund-raising abuses.
"Those are crimes," Gingrich said.
Local Democrats say their guest was rude. "That floor is sacred to us and for him to get into that ... we find that offensive," said State Democratic Raymond Buckley.
But back in Washington, Democrats sense a chance to defy history and retake the House this fall and say the outspoken speaker may be their best weapon.
"Every day I turn on my television set and I see Newt Gingrich on television, I rejoice," said Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
It was the speaker's third New Hampshire visit in a month and many here see a strategy for campaign 2000 that begins with smoothing ruffled relations with the conservative Republican base.
"I think some of what you are hearing now is an attempt on his part to re-establish his bona fides with that group," said Tom Rath, a GOP activist.
Gingrich certainly played to New Hampshire's conservative tide, with pointed comments on lower taxes. "In a free society you ought to be able to keep three-quarters of what you make in peacetime," he said.
He also urged the embrace of God in politics and in American history books. "It is historically accurate to teach it that way and our kids ought to learn it that way," he said.
Steve Duprey, the state GOP chair, said Gingrich would be an instant force in a wide-open Republican race.
"I think you are going to have probably the biggest field of serious contenders in a Republican primary that we have ever seen," Duprey said.
Gingrich told state Republican leaders he won't decide whether to run for president until Labor Day 1999. But he made a point of noting that John Kennedy didn't enter the 1960 race until January of that year, and the speaker left the distinct impression he wants to run in campaign 2000.