MANCHESTER, N.H. — Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich responded to allegations of racism at a town hall meeting convened for Hispanics and other ethnic minorities Sunday, saying that his comments had been twisted into something they were not by his critics.
“The Democratic National Committee took totally out of context half of the sentence, OK?” said Gingrich testily, when an audience member asked him when he would “stop using black people as stepping stones.” He was referring to a comment Gingrich made Thursday, in which he said he wished to go to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and tell African-Americans to “demand paychecks, not food stamps.”
“Clearly, as someone who has served with Colin Powell, somebody who has served with Condi Rice, I have a pretty good sense that in fact, African-Americans have made many contributions to America. As somebody who co-sponsored [a federal holiday for] Martin Luther King Jr’s. birthday on the first day I was sworn as a freshman congressman, as someone from Atlanta, who understands the role of Dr. King, you and I are probably fairly compatible,” Gingrich said.
“What I said was, there is a real problem with America when you have a president who has put more people on food stamps. People — I didn’t say any ethnic group, people — than any other president in history,” Gingrich explained. “I would like to get more people on paychecks.”
“There is currently 43 percent African-American teenage unemployment in the United States,” Gingrich stormed on. “That number should be unacceptable to any American, and we should have a commitment to enable every young American of every ethnic background to pursue happiness.
“And I said I was willing to go to the NAACP, which most Republicans are not willing to do. And I’d go in to talk about the importance of food stamps versus paychecks.”
Gingrich said he was surprised at the backlash from his comment.
“I would have thought there would have been a positive response to, ‘gosh, here’s a Republican who cares enough that he’s wiling to go and talk to one of the most left-wing organizations in America about how to help the people they represent.’”