In July 1997, a broad swath of the House Republican Conference that included some party leaders tried, but ultimately failed, to stage a coup against then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).
Dissatisfaction with Gingrich began to come to the surface over a prolonged ethics investigation that resulted in the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct slapping the Speaker with a $300,000 fine after a probe determined he “broke House rules by failing to ensure that he would not violate federal tax law” and providing false information to the committee.
Plotting for the rebellion began to gain steam shortly after Gingrich was elected to a second term in the House’s top post and broke to the surface in July. Small groups of Members met in secret to vent their frustration with Gingrich’s leadership and even went so far as to talk about finding an alternative to the Georgian as Speaker.
Among the Members who were very active in hatching the attempted coup were GOP Reps. Matt Salmon (Ariz.), Steve Chabot (Ohio), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Pete Hoekstra (Mich.), Bob Inglis (S.C.), Steve Largent (Okla.), Mark Neumann (Wis.), Mark Sanford (S.C.), Joe Scarborough (Fla.) and Mark Souder (Ind.).
“While they disavow any intention right now to unseat Gingrich, the 11 have met recently to discuss how to recapture … the ‘Contract with America feeling’ that animated them in the 104th Congress,” Roll Call reported.
Gingrich continued to fall from grace in the eyes of many in his party with his continued missteps, including a proposed $20 million increase in House committee spending, and the announcement that he had received a $300,000 loan from former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) to pay his fine.
The Speaker defused the coup in June when he talked with the leaders of the rebellion to quiet them and promised “‘that he will do everything in his power to ensure that there is a net increase of zero’ in the legislative branch appropriations bill.”
But top House Republicans, including then-Majority Leader Dick Armey (Texas) and Reps. Tom DeLay (Texas), John Boehner (Ohio) and Bill Paxon (N.Y.), continued to discuss the possibility of removing Gingrich from the leadership.
In the weeks following the attempted coup, the leaders involved denied that they discussed Gingrich’s removal, with the exception of DeLay, who, according to reports, was “the only involved leadership Member who has not publicly and privately disavowed his connection to the coup.”
Gingrich’s survival would be short-lived. Losses in the next fall’s election would seal his fate, setting off a scramble that realigned the GOP leadership.