One week after his comments on Meet the Press unleashed a wave of outrage from conservatives, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sat down with Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation this morning as part of his ongoing effort to mend fences and set the record straight.
Gingrich admitted that he “probably used unfortunate language” last week but maintained that the term “right-wing social engineering” was not in direct reference to Paul Ryan’s budget (which he would have voted for). Instead, the former Speaker said he was merely speaking to a “general principle,” in response to the question of where or not Republicans should pass an unpopular plan.
“We the people should not have Washington impose large scale change on us,” he told Schieffer. “Neither party should impose on the American people something that they are deeply opposed [to].”
Gingrich said Paul Ryan has simply begun the process by which the GOP must sell “very significant” Medicare reform to the American people. Ryan’s budget should be the starting point, he explained, but it would almost certainly be modified along the way — something even Ryan himself would acknowledge.
“We Republicans have to go to the country, we have to explain what we’re trying to accomplish to save Medicare — how we would save Medicare,” Gingrich continued. “The country has to have time, the American people have to have time, to ask us questions, to modify the plan if necessary to get to a point where people are comfortable with it.”
These are the step Republicans must take in order defeat the Democrats’ “shameful” smear campaign, he argued. If voters are sufficiently engaged, they will eventually come around and support serious reforms to Medicare. “This is the beginning of a profound conversation about a fiscal crisis that is going to crush this country,” he added. “[Ryan] and I are on the same side in that conversation, Obama is on the opposite side of that conversation. And I think that’s the important thing to keep in mind.”
Gingrich also reiterated his opposition to a individuals mandate for health care, despite earlier indications to the contrary. “I do not believe in mandates, in fact I think in many ways they’re unconstitutional,” he said, recommending a “10th amendment” approach that would give states greater authority over their health care regimes. His position on this issue should be clear enough at this point, Ginrich insisted. “I’m not going to get involved in a gotcha game. I’ve voted 7,000 times, I’ve given 5,000 speech and probably 10,000 interviews.”
Reacting to the news that Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has decided not to run for president, Gingrich praised Daniels as “one of the great reform governor’s in this country” who would have easily have been a front runner had he entered the race.
“He has a great future, and I think will play a major role in designing the [Republican] platform and a major role in helping other people learn that you actuary can govern and you can actually be creative,” Gingrich said. “He’s a terrific talent, he would have been a very formidable competitor.”
Things got a bit testy when Schieffer inquired about reports that Gingrich and his wife had at one point owed between $250,000 and $500,000 to Tiffany’s jewelry store. Gingrich described the account in question as a “revolving fund” and “a normal way of doing business.”
“We’re private citizens. I work very hard, we have a reasonably good income,” he said. “As a private citizen who has done well, I think I’m allowed to pick and choose what I prefer doing.”
But when pressed as to whether this behavior was appropriate for someone asking to be put in charge of the U.S. Treasury, the former speaker got visibly irritated. “Go talk to Tiffany’s…It’s my private life,” he told Schieffer. “I’m the guy running for president who pays all of his bills…I am debt free. If the U.S. government were as debt free as I am, everybody in America would be celebrating.”
Gingrich said he was running for president because “this country needs very dramatic change.” His rough week politically had only been perceived as such by the beltways types in Washington. Meanwhile, the crowds as his recent campaign gatherings in Iowa were overflowing. “The campaign looked very, very alive if you were in Iowa,” he said.
Americans understand that it will require proven leadership to solve its many problems, Gingrich argued. “I think we’re in a period where we face enormous choice about which kind of country we’re going to be. I think Obama is in exactly the wrong direction, and I think a Republican who has actually led the Congress, achieved four balanced budgets, achieved economic growth…I think I have both a record of real achievement and a record of real choice compared to Obama.”