Since becoming a frontrunner for the Republican nomination, former Speaker Newt Gingrich has come under fire for consulting work he did for mortgage giant Freddie Mac. And one of Gingrich’s rhetorical crutches, when pressed on the issue, has been to reference former New York Rep. Rick Lazio.
Lazio chaired the Housing and Community Opportunity — a subcommittee that oversees HUD and The Government National Mortgage Association — from 1995-2001. Gingrich left Congress in early 1999, and, according to reports, consulted for Freddie from 1999-2002 — and again from 2006-2008.
During his first tenure there, had Gingrich wanted to lobby someone on behalf of Freddie, Lazio would have been the obvious target. And so, amid the attacks and accusations that he “lobbied,” Gingrich has frequently referenced his former colleague. During a recent interview, for example, Gingrich pushed back at the lobbying charges, telling the Manchester Union Leader editorial board:
I did no lobbying of any kind. I checked, for example, with Rick Lazio. Lazio ran the Housing subcommittee when I was Speaker — and produced a reform bill in ’96 that we passed against the opposition of liberals. And Lazio sent me a note the other day and said he’d be glad to talk with any reporters. He said I always supported his reform efforts; I never mentioned Fannie or Freddie to him.
Friday morning, I talked with Lazio (who tells me he is backing Mitt Romney for president) to see if his recollection matched Gingrich’s.
“[Gingrich] was supportive of the work that I did in housing — and the efforts at reforming a whole slew of programs,” Lazio told me via telephone.
“I don’t recall that he ever intervened or asked me to do anything that would have protected or helped either Freddie or Fannie during those years,” he said.
Interestingly, Lazio also implied that Gingrich might have had good reason to use his influence to try to lobby him:
[Gingrich] had awareness of the fact the many of us were calling for the then regulator…that we were kind of pushing that regulator to provide more oversight [on Freddie]. I’m sure he was aware of that. And I don’t recall any effort on his part to intervene — to kind of water it down — or to try to convince anybody on our side that we ought to be a lighter touch on them.
On a related note, I also couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask Lazio about Gingrich’s exchange with Rep. Michele Bachmann during Thursday night’s debate.
After Bachmann attacked Gingrich over Freddie Mac and his pro-life stance, Gingrich accused her of not having her facts straight, and some speculated he might have come dangerously close to having a “Rick Lazio Moment.”
According to Lazio:
I just think that the whole concept that somebody holds themselves out for high public office and is an experience elected official…can’t protect themselves in a political vetting process in a debate is just wrong. And I think it’s in a sense, incredibly sexist, to sort of think that a female candidate is not able to defend herself.
And, as a matter of fact, I think [Bachmann] was quite effective in coming back and saying, ‘don’t patronize me.’
Recalling his own experience debating a female opponent (he was roundly criticized for invading Hillary Clinton’s “space” during a senatorial debate) Lazio added: “The people that pretend to be supportive and empowering of women, in a way, do women a disservice by presuming that they can’t defend themselves.”