Gingrich Pushes Civility

rcohen@njdc.com

House Speaker Gingrich Tuesday said he expects to approve "in the near future" proposals designed to restore a measure of civility to the House. The recommendations are being prepared by sponsors of last weekend's bipartisan House retreat, which was attended by 191 House members.

"We had a tremendous number of good ideas," Gingrich told a press conference held by the retreat's organizers. "I hope they're going to come back to both parties and make recommendations. Both [Minority Leader] Gephardt and I have already indicated to a number of them that we will say yes."

Among the proposals receiving serious consideration are moving one-minute speeches to the end of the legislative day, and convening regular meetings of the two parties' leaders and occasional joint sessions of the party conferences, said Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., one of the chief organizers of the Hershey, Pa., retreat.

"If we are going to have civil debate, we don't need to begin by trashing one another," LaHood said. Members from both parties plan to meet Thursday to discuss specific steps. "We are going to do our best to elevate the debate," said Rep. David Skaggs of Colorado, the chief Democratic sponsor of the retreat. "We are trying to unpoison the well."

Meanwhile, as Gingrich Tuesday was promoting proposals to make the House more civil, the often- caustic speaker appeared to be the model of civility himself. Suggesting that last weekend's retreat be made an annual event, Gingrich said: "It reminded all of us first of all to act like adults ... Having people get to know each other as human begins, getting to know about their families, their backgrounds, their illnesses, their problems, is enormously powerful."

He added, that, when the GOP took control of the House in early 1995, "Republicans did not really know how to be a majority and Democrats didn't know how to be a minority. We managed to make far more difficult what would have been a hard circumstance in any situation."

The kinder, gentler Gingrich also was in evidence later Tuesday, when, the Associated Press reported, he appeared before reporters after a meeting with several mayors and heaped praise on Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, a Democrat.

"I cannot endorse too strongly the very practical approach Mayor Daley is taking" on welfare and other issues, Gingrich said. Turning to Daley, he added: "I don't want to ruin your reputation by praising you too much."

Gingrich, who in the past has criticized the media almost as much as he has blasted the Democrats, even had a kind word for the press, saying one reason welfare rolls are down is that "you got across the message."

But Gingrich, who has tended to get into rhetorical trouble in the past during give-and-takes with the media, again avoided reporters' questions Tuesday. He left the press conference on the bipartisan retreat after 10 minutes and did not take questions.

Gingrich has kept a low profile since the beginning of the year, when his ethics case came to a head and he was hit with a $300,000 penalty by the House for misinforming the Ethics Committee on tax-exempt contributions.

Last week, the speaker ducked out of a press conference on the forthcoming GOP agenda before he could be asked about when and how he planned to pay the $300,000.

Then, on Monday, his press office angered reporters when it said they could attend a Gingrich photo opportunity only if they agreed not to ask questions about his ethics problems. That condition was later removed, and Gingrich was asked the question, which he refused to answer.

On Tuesday, he reminded listeners that "everyone around us had human relationships." The House and Senate have "natural and legitimate tensions, and natural and legitimate conflicts, and one of the keys is to learn how to manage them."

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