3-5-9 newt gingrich interview from the today show transcript

Newt Gingrich is the former Republican speaker of the House.

Speaker Gingrich, good to see you. Good morning.

Mr. NEWT GINGRICH (Republican, Former Speaker of the House): Good to be with you.

LAUER: Let me ask you how you think President Obama has handled this so far. A couple of weeks ago he went to Capitol Hill, he reached out to Republicans, met with them at their caucus. This week, a much tougher stance against Republicans. Last night, you just heard the comments he had to make. He's angry about this. Is he justified or is he sending mixed signals?

Mr. GINGRICH: Look, I think--I think he is in real danger of becoming Jimmy Carter instead of Ronald Reagan. He's zigzagging. He's not accurate. The fact is, in the House there were 11 Democrats who voted no. In the Senate it is a bipartisan group of Democrats and Republicans together who are saying this bill's too expensive. What we got last night wasn't let's reason together, let's sit down and negotiate. You know, when we did the balanced budget bill, which saved $405 billion in federal debt over four years, and it was the only time since the 1920s, President Clinton and I had to negotiate for 35 days in order to work out all the details.

LAUER: Except, though, Speaker Gingrich, the situation is different this time around, isn't it? I mean, President Obama talks about grave and immediate consequences to the economy if this isn't passed sooner than later.

Mr. GINGRICH: Well, if it's that grave and that immediate, why isn't he calling bipartisan leadership meetings in the White House to work out the details instead of making partisan speeches in front of a partisan audience, attacking the people whose votes he's going to need? I mean, I agree this is a very grave situation, but that doesn't excuse trying to ram through a $920 billion bill. Now think of it--the scale, Matt. Every American could not pay a single penny of income tax or a single penny of Social Security tax from now through August for the amount of money we're talking about. This is more money than the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war have cost in seven years, and you don't just ram that through unthinkingly. You expect your representatives and your senators to try to make the bill work.

LAUER: Let me ask you about the first couple of weeks of this administration, Newt. There have been ups and downs. More recently, more downs than ups, especially with the tax situations involving some key nominees for the Cabinet. I'm just curious, are we seeing simple growing pains, or do you think we're seeing something more serious?

Mr. GINGRICH: I don't--I don't think we know yet, but I think last night's speech didn't help any in this--in this case. You know, President Obama had a remarkable campaign. He was as disciplined and as smart as any candidate we've seen in modern times. And I thought the first five or six weeks of his transition were terrific and he was doing a good job. He picked a strong national security team. And then I think they just got tone-deaf, starting with Geithner, secretary of the Treasury. Because you can't pick a guy to be in charge of the IRS who hasn't paid his taxes for four years. And then that just continued. I don't know if they were doing a bad job of vetting or if they were so confident that they thought the country wouldn't notice or they thought they could shrug it off.

LAUER: Well...

Mr. GINGRICH: But I do think they've had a difficult challenge. And I think there is a danger it's going to get worse, because the fact is the world doesn't slow down to let presidents learn. I mean, the world moves at a very fast pace when you're in the White House.

LAUER: Let me ask you--and this is a segue, I think it works here. You've got a new project out, it's a documentary on Ronald Reagan called "Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous With Destiny." This would have been his 98th birthday. He was the Great Communicator who came to office during another time of change. What could Obama, learn from the steps taken by Ronald Reagan back then in terms of the opening month of his administration?

Mr. GINGRICH: Well, President Reagan, first of all, did not get his tax cuts through until the summer, signed them in August, at a time which, by the way, was a deeper recession than we're in right now. President Reagan had a disciplined, calm, optimistic approach, even after he was shot. There's a scene in our movie where he comes into the House chamber 13 days after he was shot, and as you look at it, you can't believe this guy is responding so well, is so disciplined and is physically so strong. I think that there was a steady optimism to Reagan that allowed him to be comfortable. After all, he and O'Neill fought--Democrat Speaker O'Neill fought all the time. But at 6:00 in the evening they put aside the fighting and they could sit around and tell stories and try to learn to work together. Reagan had eight years as governor of California, and he had learned a lot about how the executive works with the legislature. Senator Obama was a state senator, then he was a US senator. I'm not sure he yet understands as president how dramatically different that role is from simply being the party leader.

LAUER: Right. Well, we'll leave it at that. Newt Gingrich.

Newt, good to see you.

Mr. GINGRICH: Good to be with you.