Gingrich Says Funeral ‘Snub’ Contributed to Government Shutdown
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The White House today branded as outrageous and bizarre House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s admission that his personal pique with President Clinton helped prompt a partial shutdown of the federal government.
Gingrich told reporters that he and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., felt slighted by Clinton during a trip to and from the funeral of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
That ``snub,″ the Georgia Republican told reporters, was ``part of why you ended up with us sending down a tougher continuing resolution″ _ the stopgap spending bill that Clinton vetoed Monday. That veto led to a partial shutdown of government operations Tuesday, Wednesday and today.
``It is bizarre,″ Leon Panetta, the White House chief of staff, told reporters today. ``I think all of this is outrageous that they would use that kind of pettiness to shut down the federal government.″
Gingrich said Wednesday that Clinton did not allow him and Dole to sit in the front of the plane during the long flight to and from Jerusalem.
Furthermore, Clinton barely spoke to them during the trip, Gingrich said, and he and other congressional leaders were told on arriving back at Andrews Air Force Base that they had to exit from the rear of Air Force One _ rather than with the president at the front door.
``Both of us (Gingrich and Dole) got on that airplane expecting to spend several hours talking about the budget and how do we avoid the shutdown,″ Gingrich said. ``Every president we had ever flown with had us up front. Every president we had ever flown with had talked to us at length.
``You just wonder where is their sense of manners, where is their sense of courtesy,″ Gingrich said. ``Was it just a sign of utter incompetence or lack of consideration, or was it a deliberate strategy of insult? I don’t know which it was.″
Gingrich and Dole had complained earlier about their lack of discussions with Clinton during the 25 hours of flying to and from the funeral. But Gingrich went a step further Wednesday by saying the incident contributed to the government shutdown.
``It’s petty ... but I think it’s human,″ he told reporters at a breakfast meeting.
Panetta said today: ``I had conversations with both the speaker and the leader, and not once did either of them say, `Let’s go in the back, and sit down and try and cut a deal here.′ Frankly, it would have been inappropriate. Everybody knew this was about a funeral.
``And even if that were the case ... why would you want to shut down the government?″ Panetta asked.
White House spokesman Mike McCurry was incredulous. ``There’s no conceivable way he would have said anything like that,″ he said when told of Gingrich’s remarks. ``I just fail to believe the speaker would somehow or other connect this to the current budget crisis.″
Gingrich cautioned reporters against trivializing an incident he said had more to do with hard-line signals than social graces.
What happened, by the speaker’s account, is that Clinton walked by twice at the beginning of the trip. Panetta came back at 4 a.m. as the plane was approaching Andrews Air Force Base ``and said maybe we can work something out. The conversation with Panetta was three minutes out of 25 hours,″ Gingrich said.
McCurry said Gingrich was treated with ``utmost courtesy,″ including being allowed to bring his wife along on the trip.
``The president of the United States lost a friend. And I don’t think he much felt like talking about budget politics with Speaker Gingrich, with all due respect,″ McCurry said.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said he asked to bring his wife on the trip to Israel and was refused permission. ``For a person who was given extra privileges ... I’m amazed that he would be the biggest whiner,″ Daschle said of Gingrich. ``I mean, quit the whining. Let’s get on with the real business here.″