Chris Shays helped head off 1997 coup that targeted Newt

In Washington, “The Hill” this morning reported on the 1997 Republican coup that almost toppled then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. A small group of GOP lawmakers were ready to side with minority Democrats to remove Gingrich. Here’s the article:

J.C. Watts recalls it in his biography:

Former long-time 4th District U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, R-CT, who was defeated by Jim Himes in 2008 and is now running for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination against Linda McMahon, told CT Politics on Tuesday that then-U.S. Rep. Steve Largent, the retired NFL All Pro receiver, revealed the imminent coup to him, in confidence, the day before it was supposed to go off in 1997.

“I said ‘you can’t tell me you’re about to kill someone and then not tell him,'” Shays recalled in a phone interview. “How dirty was this?” Shays went to Gingrich’s chief of staff, who didn’t believe him. “The next day Largent said he didn’t get it yesterday, but would get it today.” By then, Gingrich began sensing a problem and the tactic, getting enough Republicans to join Democrats and unseat him in a bipartisan vote, similar to the 1989 unseating of Connecticut’s Democratic Speaker of the House Irv Stolberg by Richard Balducci. “I was asked to be part of the coup, but not only did I not want to be part of it, I thought it was wrong and unfair. Newt got wise to it, ended up meeting with those who wanted the coup and made concessions. As it worked out, they didn’t do it,” Shays said.”It was a little bit of palace intrigue. I did not support the coup.” 

Shays is a Romney supporter in the GOP presidential sweepstakes of 2012. But he feels some of Romney’s attacks are unfair, including the former Massachusetts governor’s charge that Gingrich resigned as speaker “in disgrace.” Shays contests that recollection, noting that Republicans lost a few seats in the 1998 election, presumably because of voter backlash from the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

“He resigned because he didn’t win the majority,” Shays said.