Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich got into an intense sparring match over Gingrich’s seven-figure consulting gig with Freddie Mac at Thursday’s Iowa debate.
The exchange began after Gingrich was asked by moderator Chris Wallace how he could call for lawmakers who took donations from Freddie Mac to be thrown in jail while accepting $1.6 million from the mortgage giant to help promote their work.
Gingrich argued that because he had secured his work outside of Congress, it was OK.
“They were using power,” he said. “I was a private citizen engaged in a business like any other business.”
While Gingrich has called for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to be privatized in recent years, he proceeded to launch into an impassioned defense of private-public partnerships as well as the broad government goal of providing more housing for low-income citizens.
“It is a good conservative principle to find ways to help families right at the margin learn how to budget, learn how to take care of a house, learn how to buy a house,” he said. “I am not going to step back from an idea that we should have as a goal helping as many Americans as possible be capable of buying homes.”
Ron Paul dinged him over the remark, saying Gingrich “has a different definition of private sector than I have…it’s a government agency,” before Bachmann jumped in with a diatribe against Gingrich’s “support for the government-sponsored enterprises.
“I am shocked listening to the former Speaker of the House because he is defending the continuing practice of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae,” she said. “There is a big difference between a credit union and Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. They were the epicenter of the mortgage financial meltdown. I was trying to see these two entities put in bankruptcy because they frankly need to go away when the Speaker had his hand out and he was taking $1.6 million to influence senior Republicans to keep the scam.”
Gingrich responded: “What she just said is factually not true. I never lobbied under any circumstance. I never went in and suggested in any way we do this.”
“You don’t need to be within the technical definition of being a lobbyist to still be influence peddling with senior Republicans in Washington, DC to get them to do your bidding,” Bachmann shot back. “And the bidding was to keep the grandiose scam of Freddie Mac going. “
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.