Boehner says he wasn't part of '97 coup effort against Gingrich

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) denied on Wednesday that he was part of a group of rising Republican stars who secretly tried to oust then-Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997.

“That was someone’s rumor — that was an inaccurate rumor,” Boehner said Wednesday.

Boehner is determined to stay out of the 2012 Republican presidential race, even when it comes to Gingrich (R-Ga.), the surging candidate who once held his job.

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Asked repeatedly about Gingrich on Wednesday, Boehner demurred.

“Newt’s been a longtime friend, but I’ve spent a long time this year avoiding getting involved picking winners and losers in the presidential contest,” Boehner said. “As I said, our focus is on the American people’s priority, and that’s jobs.”

Gingrich resigned as Speaker after House Republicans lost seats in the 1998 elections, but he had been considerably weakened even before the midterm defeat.

A year earlier, conservative rebels including members of the GOP leadership, had discussed getting rid of him.

Members said to be involved, according to reports in The Hill and other publications at the time, included former Rep. Tom Delay (R-Texas), then-Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), former Rep. Bill Paxton (R-N.Y.) and Boehner.

Republicans fought at the time over who exactly was involved in the coup effort, and years later members are still battling over the details.

Boehner at the time was a rising star in the GOP who had helped Gingrich write the Contract with America. Since members above him such as Armey, DeLay and Paxton were also involved in the coup effort, he took less heat at the time over his role.

After Gingrich lost the Speakership, Boehner lost his position as chairman of the House GOP Conference. His return to power as minority leader in 2006 served as an incredible rise back to power.

Gingrich’s performance as Speaker in the 1990s is coming under renewed scrutiny now that he is leading the GOP battle in some state and national polls.

Of the top four Republicans in the House, only Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) has endorsed a presidential hopeful. He is backing Texas Gov. Rick Perry.