Originally created 01/07/97

Area delegation backs Gingrich



WASHINGTON - The Augusta-area House delegation will be solidly behind Speaker Newt Gingrich today, as the Georgian looks to become the first Republican to be re-elected to the top leadership post in 68 years.

Reps. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., will vote for Mr. Gingrich despite the violations of House ethics rules the speaker admitted to last month. The violations weren't serious enough to deny Mr. Gingrich a second term as speaker, and have been blown out of proportion by Democrats, Mr. Graham said.

"I believe we owe him the courtesy of judging him for what he did, not based on what political agendas are out there," he said.

Dr. Norwood's spokesman John Stone said Monday that Dr. Norwood would vote for Mr. Gingrich today.

While a handful of Republicans have expressed doubts over voting for Mr. Gingrich while the ethics case is hanging over him, most have downplayed the severity of the violations. Mr. Graham said a reprimand - which would allow Mr. Gingrich to stay in the leadership - would be punishment enough for the speaker.

The full House ethics committee will meet Wednesday in closed session to begin considering a penalty for Mr. Gingrich. The panel will hold a public meeting on the case late this week or next week.

The committee is due to make its recommendation to the full House by Jan. 21. Republicans are expected to push for a reprimand, while Mr. Gingrich's Democratic opponents are likely to call for a censure, which could lead to him being stripped of the speakership.