Editor’s Note: Part of the CNN Republican debate fact-checking series
During Thursday’s Republican debate, Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney spent time recounting the ethics investigation into former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
The statement: “But the truth is that the members of his own team, his congressional team, after his four years of leadership, they moved to replace him. They also took a vote, and 88 percent of Republicans voted to reprimand the speaker. And he did resign in disgrace after that. This was the first time in American history that a speaker of the House has resigned from the House.”
– Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
The January 1997 vote on the bill titled “In the Matter of Representative Newt Gingrich,” the body acted with overwhelming bipartisanship. Voting in favor were 196 Republicans, 198 Democrats and one independent. Voting against were 26 Republicans and two Democrats. That’s 88%.
Of the 53 individuals who have served as speaker, two resigned and Gingrich was not one of them. Henry Clay of Kentucky resigned three times – on January 19, 1814; November 15, 1820; and December 5, 1825. James C. Wright Jr. resigned in 1989, the result of a complaint initiated by Gingrich over charges of ethics violations.
Gingrich himself, though reelected to the 106th Congress, did not take his seat for a third term as speaker. Instead, J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois took the job.
Gingrich reimbursed U.S. taxpayers $300,000 for legal expenses and costs incurred by the investigation by the Select Committee on Ethics into his use of tax-exempt funds to promote Republican causes and lying about it to the committee.
Though the committee allowed him to hold onto his post, its vote marked the first time the House had disciplined a sitting speaker.
Verdict: True, but incomplete. It is true that his fellow party members voted overwhelmingly to reprimand him, but not true that his failure to show up for a third term marked the first time in history that a speaker has resigned. Others had resigned. And, though the result was the same, Gingrich himself technically did not resign – he simply did not take his seat.
CNN’s Tom Watkins and Julie In contributed to this report.