WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 -- Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., was sworn in Wednesday as speaker of the House of Representatives, crowning the Republican Party's takeover of Congress after 40 years in the minority. In the symbolic changing of the guard, Gingrich took the gavel from House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt, who most likely would have been speaker had his party not been trounced in the 1994 elections. 'With partnership but with purpose, I pass this great gavel of our government with reservation but with resolve,' Gephardt said. 'Let the great debate begin,' he said. Taking the gavel, Gingrich declared, 'This is an historic moment.' He noted that he is not only the first Republican speaker in 40 years but also the first Georgian elected speaker in more than 100 years. 'I feel overwhelmed in every way,' he said. Shortly after the 104th Congress convened, Gingrich was sworn in by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the dean of the House who was elected in 1955, the year House Democrats won power from the Republicans and began their 40-year reign. In his speech, Gingrich read a portion of the GOP's Contract With America, assuring the angry electorate that voted him into power he will not back down from his promise to shrink government, cut spending, balance the federal budget, and reform the House. He also defended his more controversial proposals, including one to create orphanages for children of welfare mothers. Earlier in the day, Gingrich held his first speaker's news conference, reiterating his commitment to passing a balanced budget amendment, a bill to eliminate unfunded mandates on states, line-item veto legislation, a crime bill to expand the federal death penalty, and other 'bold proposals.'
'We're going to pass what we pledged to the American people,' he said, referring to the Sept. 27 signing of the so-called contract by hundreds of Republicans and GOP candidates. He also lashed out at the Democratic leadership for its plan to immediately challenge the Republican agenda on opening day by trying to add a strict gift ban to the GOP's House rules package -- a direct slap at Gingrich -- that was scheduled for a vote later Wednesday. The gift ban legislation includes language placing stiff limits on royalties members of Congress can receive from book publishers. Gingrich recently announced he will forego a $4.5 million advance for two books he is writing but, nonetheless, still collect royalties. Gingrich questioned whether the Democrats' strategy is 'just a cheap, nasty, partisan shot,' and said it only goes to show they 'learned nothing from their defeat.' He than called the new minority's first legislative attack 'an astonishingly narrow and self-destructive tactic.' Asked how it felt to be leading his party back into power after four decades under Democratic control in the House, Gingrich exclaimed, 'It's unbelievable.' He again said he will not compromise with the Clinton administration on any of the GOP plans, leaving the White House in a tough position with Republicans now controlling both chambers of Congress. Gingrich also acknowledged he will have to change his bomb-throwing style, which, like the book deal and his welfare reform plan, has stirred controversy beyond his immediate control.