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Newt Did Not Resign in Disgrace

10:53 AM, Feb 3, 2012 • By MARK SOUDER
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Upon reading the released documents I was appalled. Not by what Newt had done but rather that he had been held hostage over this flimsy of a case. It is not that Newt wasn’t “sloppy.” I think that is his middle name. However, anyone involved in politics knows that the fundamental issue being debated was what could be fairly described as confusing and inconsistent distinctions between what is considered “educational” and what is considered “political,” with the former being tax-exempt.

Washington, and the nation, has long had “support” organizations that receive tax deductions advocating liberal, moderate and conservative ideologies as well as causes. Labor, business, environmental, religious, and other interests are all impacted by the huge power of the federal government so they want to influence its decisions and ultimately have allies in Congress. Newt pushed the envelope by talking more openly about the cross-purposes, but does anyone seriously believe that were data released (the committee demanded such documents in his case) on say, the funding of tax-exempt "educational" groups allied with labor and other causes dear to Members of Congress, similar suspicions would not be raised?

The ethics rebuke was not truly bipartisan. Newt had to insist that the Republicans on the committee agree in a sudden rush because he absolutely needed a released report in order to win reelection as speaker. The key argument was over the “purpose” of his classes. Was the goal to elect Republicans who shared his views or to independently educate? The report’s pivotal contention was this: if information in a course leads to more candidates coming from one party, it is deemed political by definition. Using their argument, if the Unitarian Church held a forum as to why their religion is preferable to others, won converts, then some converts later ran for office and most were Democrats, the very recruitment to Unitarianism would then be “political” and the church would lose its tax-deductible status. In other words, they argued—which was critical—that intent didn't matter. This logic meant that they didn’t have to prove that Newt actually intended to elect just Republicans with his non-profit education classes but merely that some people who took them later ran as Republicans. Under this standard many left-biased universities would obvously be in deep trouble.

This was a political hanging not impartial justice. (The IRS, by the way, eventually ruled that Gingrich's courses were in fact educational and tax-exempt.)

My reaction was to reading the report was to move from undecided to helping Speaker Gingrich gain the necessary votes. His whip team divided up the undecided members and each began trying to persuade those we knew best.

Roll Call number three, the election of the speaker for the 105th Congress, shows that five Republicans answered “present” and Newt did not vote. (Gephardt answered “present.”) Four additional Republicans voted for other Republicans. Gingrich prevailed with 215 votes. Of those “present and voting” (which includes those who answered “present”) he prevailed 215-214.

During the vote I was assigned or volunteered (I don’t remember) to sit next to my friend, Congressman Mark Sanford, who was agonizing over his vote. Votes for speaker are tallied by calling out Member’s names in alphabetical order and each Member yells out his vote. As we moved through the alphabet Mark and I continued to argue about whether he should vote for Newt. Somewhere around “H” my friend and another 1994 classmate Jack Metcalf, who was seated on the other side of me and had previously been considered a pro-Gingrich vote, said “Mark, I’ve decided not to vote for Newt.” Since “M” was coming a lot faster than “S” I turned my attention to Jack. We discussed the report, the government shutdown mess ,and more. At the end of the day, both of them voted for Newt for speaker. I believe such conversations were occurring all over the House floor.

But that is not the end of the story. Some days later, I received a call from the speaker’s office to attend a meeting that was in progress. Chris Shays of Connecticut, a friend but ideological opposite, and I were being asked to join in a high level (meaning leadership and a few powerful others) debate on the details of how Speaker Gingrich would pay his reimbursement.

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