Mitt Romney contended Monday night that Newt Gingrich “resigned in disgrace” from his job as House speaker. Gingrich said he left voluntarily. But there was a good chance he would not have been reelected speaker if he had stayed.
“The truth is that the members of his own team, his congressional team after his four years of leadership, they moved to replace him,” Romney said. “They also took a vote and 88 percent of Republicans voted to reprimand the speaker and he did resign in disgrace after that. This was the first time in American history that a speaker of the House has resigned from the House.”
Gingrich did resign from the House in early 1999, but not as a direct result of his 1997 House reprimand for ethics violations. He left under pressure from Republican colleagues after the party did poorly in the 1998 House elections.
Putting the best light on that chapter of his career, Gingrich said in the debate that he took responsibility for Republican losses in House races, and added, “I didn't want to stay around, as Nancy Pelosi has. I wanted to get out and do other things.”
His rival on the stage, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, was closer to the truth when he suggested Gingrich had too little support in the Republican caucus to be reelected speaker. “He didn't have the votes. That was what the problem was,” Paul said. “So this idea that he voluntarily reneged and he was going to punish himself because we didn't do well in the election, that's not the way it was.”
Romney cited a House Ethics Committee investigation aimed at Gingrich that looked into whether he had violated federal tax law and misled committee investigators. Gingrich said all but one of the charges were dropped –- the one that stuck was that he had misled investigators on the committee. However, as the Washington Post Fact-Checker notes, the committee also concluded that one of Gingrich's political groups had improperly coordinated with a tax-exempt project he had launched.
Romney is right that most Republicans voted to reprimand Gingrich at the time, and the speaker was fined $300,000 to pay the costs of the investigation.