WASHINGTON--Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) ripped GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich from the House floor on Thursday, wielding humor as he tore into his fellow Catholic for accusing President Barack Obama of waging war on the Catholic church.
At issue: Under Obama, all women, no matter their employer, will get free contraception coverage starting this August. Obama on Friday--addressing concerns raised by Catholic bishops and others, revised the new rule--a result of the Obama health care plan. Under the change, women who work for religious employers--such as a hospital or non-profit--will get the benefit directly from the insurance company.
GOP White House candidates blasted Obama for the contraception coverage, arguing it was a matter of religious liberty rather than birth control. Gingrich, a thrice married Catholic convert, who had an affair with a House staffer while Speaker, strongly blasted Obama on the contraception coverage, giving Gutierrez the opening he used on Thursday morning. Gutierrez is an unabashed self-described "pro-choice Catholic."
"So I'm pleased to announce today that if Newt Gingrich can speak for all Catholics, I'm going to start speaking for all tall people," Gutierrez said.
"That's right: Five-foot six Congressman Luis Gutierrez, President of the National Association of Extremely Tall Americans.
"I'm no expert on being tall. But then again, Newt doesn't really seem expert on the rules of the Catholic Church either, so what's stopping me?"
Gutierrez delivered his speech as the House Oversight Committee was holding a hearing on the new contraception coverage benefit; the hearing was designed to give a platform for opponents of the new coverage a platform to make their objections.
Below, text as prepared of Gutierrez remarks..
One of the many things I love about America is that we are a country of second chances.
You can fail and still have a chance to get ahead in our nation of opportunity.
There was a time that it looked like Steve Jobs might not make it. He was forced out of his company and Apple looked like it might become an historical footnote - until Apple realized its mistake and asked Steve Jobs to return and put them back on top.
Our current basketball sensation, Jeremy Lin, knows a thing or two about second chances. He was undrafted by the NBA and was cut twice before landing with the New York Knicks. Other than my hometown Chicago Bulls and Derrick Rose - Lin is the most exciting story in sports.
America is about second - or third, or even fourth chances.
Which brings me, of course -- to Newt Gingrich.
Now some might say that Gingrich being considered at all for President of the United States is a second chance.
After all, his reign as Speaker of the House did not end well. It didn't end with good policy for America, good politics for Republicans, or good feelings about his personal reputation.
Yet, he is hanging on in the race to be our Commander in Chief.
But that's not the second chance I'm talking about today.
I'm talking about Newt Gingrich's reaction to President Obama's efforts to provide contraceptive coverage to all American women.
Mr. Gingrich has been trumpeting his outrage from Meet the Press to CPAC to any town hall that will have him.
He said President Obama, quote, "has basically declared war on the Catholic Church."
To be clear -- "President Obama has basically declared war on the Catholic Church."
That's the second chance I want to talk about:
Newt Gingrich as spokesperson for the Catholic Church.
Newt Gingrich as the right man to stand up as a protector of the values of the Catholic Church.
If "Newt Gingrich: Catholic Spokesperson" is not a generous, forgiving second chance, then I don't think one has ever existed in America.
Now I'm a Catholic.
And as a pro-choice legislator who strongly believes that no American woman should be denied contraceptive coverage based on where she works, I don't always see eye-to-eye with my church. So I don't pretend to be its spokesman, or someone who can speak for all Catholics. Good people can disagree on these tough issues.
But apparently Newt Gingrich is well-positioned to decide when our President has declared "war" on the Catholic faith. He isn't reluctant to speak on their behalf, even with a personal history - and let me just carefully go out on a limb here -- that seems to be at odds with some of the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Frankly, I think his personal life is his business. But when he wants to dictate morality to the rest of America, when he accuses our President of engaging in "religious persecution," when he demands that his personal values be shared by all American women -- he makes his personal life part of our public discourse.
I support the President's call for equity for all American women. I salute him for standing up for fairness in contraceptive coverage in all health plans. I support his efforts to find a compromise that respects every American's religious beliefs. He did something hard for a leader: he listened to his critics and worked to find common, moderate ground. I applaud him.
And I applaud the American people for reminding us that everyone gets a second chance.
Even a chance for Newt Gingrich to stand up for America's Catholics.
If Newt can speak for Catholics, then it's true: in America, anything is possible.
Just consider what could happen:
Maybe Charlie Sheen can become the spokesperson for the temperance movement. And Lou Dobbs can be the face of immigrants' rights. LeBron James can be in charge of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce. And the cast of Jersey Shore can lead a national campaign for Mensa and manners.
If Newt can do it, why can't they?
In fact, if Newt can do it, why can't I?
This is me with Senator Bill Bradley. He's six foot five. I'm five foot six. He has noticed the difference, and is giving me a friendly kiss on top of my head.
So I'm pleased to announce today that if Newt Gingrich can speak for all Catholics, I'm going to start speaking for all tall people.
That's right: Five-foot six Congressman Luis Gutierrez, President of the National Association of Extremely Tall Americans.
I'm no expert on being tall. But then again, Newt doesn't really seem expert on the rules of the Catholic Church either, so what's stopping me?
Thank you Mr. Speaker.