WASHINGTON — House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), displaying the confrontational style that delights many of his party colleagues and infuriates many Democrats, claimed Thursday that he has the votes to succeed retiring Rep. Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) as House minority leader.
Gingrich, literally backed by more than 60 Republicans who chanted, "Newt, Newt," as he declared his candidacy, used the occasion to denounce President Clinton and Defense Secretary Les Aspin for what he said is a failed policy in Somalia.
"The commander in chief has an obligation to be militarily competent," Gingrich said, implying that Clinton does not measure up.
The Georgia lawmaker, who barely survived reelection challenges to his congressional seat in 1990 and 1992, said he has solid pledges of support from 106 of the 175 Republicans in this Congress and expects to get more before the intraparty contest in December, 1994. To win, he needs the votes of a majority of Republicans casting ballots.
The election is 14 months away and the electorate that will choose a new leader could be changed by the number of Republican retirements, defeats of incumbents and GOP victories by candidates running against Democrats in 1994.
At issue will be whether House Republicans want to promote Gingrich or turn to a more pragmatic conservative, such as Gerald B.H. Solomon (R-N.Y.), to be the chief strategist and spokesman for the GOP minority in the House. Solomon, a friend of Michel's, has announced that he will run against Gingrich for the leadership post.
Republicans from all segments of the party in the House attended the announcement to endorse Gingrich as the leader who is most likely to help the party recapture control of the House for the first time in 40 years.
Gingrich, 50, presented himself as the spokesman for a new generation of conservatives, declaring: "We know the welfare state has failed . . . . Our generation must replace the welfare state with an opportunity society."