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News shocker: Dick Armey now admires Bill Clinton

September 11, 2009 |  5:03 pm

GTexas former Republican House leader Dick Armey

Back in the day, when Republicans ran Congress and the Clintons were in the White House, few adversaries were fiercer than Dick Armey vs. Bill Clinton.

Armey, the Texas congressman and GOP House leader, was scathing in his criticism of the Clintons — both personally (he famously told First Lady Hillary Clinton, as she testified on behalf of her healthcare reform bill, that reports of her charm were overstated) and, of course, politically (Armey credits himself with being one of the main obstacles to passage of said healthcare legislation).

President Clinton acknowledged the fraught relationship in that false-bonhomie way of Washington. "I met with Sen. John Glenn recently to decide who should be the next distinguished member of...

...Congress hurled into the far reaches of the universe," Clinton told the audience, referring to the politicians-in-space program at one of those chummy black-tie dinners they love so much in D.C.

"And we have our man," Clinton said, pausing for effect. "Godspeed, Dick Armey."

The audience laughed knowingly.

So it was quite unexpected during a recent interview when Armey — the maestro of Saturday’s large conservative anti-tax, anti-healthcare-reform, anti-big-government tea-party march on Washington — had this to say about his old nemesis:

"Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama have made me appreciate Bill Clinton more than I did. I think that President Clinton was more involved, more responsibly and more ably, in his job as president than what we’ve seen since him. He deserves more credit than I gave him at the time."

In an exclusive interview as he worked his way through an industrial-strength omelette — sausage, ham, cheese, bell peppers, jalapenos, salsa — at his favorite reastaurant in Bartonville, Texas, Armey also expressed disappointment with his comrade in the 1994 Republican revolution, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The two worked extremely well together, Gingrich hatching ideas, Armey keeping the proverbial trains on track, but they were never personally close.

Their relationship grew more strained after it was revealed that Gingrich had been carrying on his own extramarital affair at the same time he was leading impeachment proceedings against President Clinton for his dalliances with Monica Lewinsky.

"He put our whole conference at risk," Armey said, referring to Republicans in the House. "He wasn’t just cheating on his wife. He was cheating on us, too. And it was wrong to have had an affair during that time. Or, for my mind, at any time."

Armey said he and Gingrich "see each other off and on" but he has never shared those thoughts with his former colleague. "What was I going to do?" he asked.

Don’t count on Armey endorsing Gingrich should he run for president in 2012 — or any GOP hopeful, for that matter.

Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty are all fine people, Armey said, but "I may be more or less out of the business of endorsing candidates with a great deal of enthusiam."

— Mark Z. Barabak

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Photo: Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images
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