House Speaker Newt Gingrich joins with President Clinton in applauding… (Ruth Fremson / Associated…)
On the same day that former President Clinton accused former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of taking undue credit for balancing the federal budget during Clinton’s administration in the 1990s, the onetime rivals shied away from stirring up any more controversy over their past animosity as they appeared in back-to-back interviews Tuesday night on Fox News.
Clinton, who is making the media rounds and promoting his new book, “Back to Work,” sat down with Fox host Bill O’Reilly for a candid talk that veered somewhat uncomfortably into the topic of the upcoming presidential election.
Clinton seemed caught off guard when O’Reilly asked if he respects Gingrich, who led Republicans to a major victory during the 1994 midterm elections largely by stoking deep opposition to Clinton, who was then in his first years as president.
“I respect his ability to think and do,” Clinton said after a long pause. “And I eventually hammered out a really productive relationship with him.”
O’Reilly pressed on, asking Clinton if he respects Gingrich “as a man.”
“I don’t disrespect anybody who works with me in good faith,” he said. “I think he was way more political than I would have been. He’s defended what he called ‘scorched earth politics,’ and I certainly was the beneficiary of it.”
Clinton conceded that he did view Gingrich as an enemy, “until he got to be speaker and until the government shutdown [of 1995 and 1996] changed the public mood.” Gingrich was speaker from 1995 until 1999.
Clinton said he’ll vote for President Obama next year. He wouldn’t entertain O’Reilly’s request that he put partisan loyalties aside and discuss the merits of Gingrich’s candidacy.
“Remember, his wife’s in the Cabinet, and he’s a loyal Democrat,” Gingrich said. “What is he going to say? ‘Oh, I really like Newt Gingrich a lot and I’d really vote for him over Obama?’ I mean, he can’t do that. He’s clearly committed to President Obama.”
Although Gingrich was known for “scorched earth politics” in the 1990s, he has kept his presidential campaign largely positive. He kept that theme going as he discussed Clinton.
“I respect Bill Clinton,” he said. “I think Bill Clinton’s had a long career. He’s been very durable. He’s done very positive things with his post-presidency. And you have to say that he’s a very serious person, and one who’s worked very hard.”
Of their relationship in the 1990s, Gingrich said: “I think you’d have to say that there was something going on there that allowed a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican to put the country first in a way that, unfortunately, President Obama, you can’t find.”