Gingrich Defends Conservative Record, Says Obama Is 'Wrong' on Keystone XL Pipeline

By the Associated Press | December 15, 2011 | 9:26 PM EST

Republican presidential candidates, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, left, and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, arrive for a Republican presidential debate in Sioux City, Iowa, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is defending his conservative record.

Gingrich on Thursday evening pushed back against rivals who say he hasn't been consistently conservative and cite his one-time support for a requirement that Americans buy health insurance. Gingrich says he has changed his positions when he learns new facts, but says claims he is not conservative are "laughable."

Gingrich opened the final debate before Iowans caucus by pointing to his tenure as House speaker: an overhaul of welfare programs, four balanced budgets and low unemployment.

He also points to his role helping Republicans win the majority in the House during 1994's midterm elections and, before that, his support for Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp.

In another exchange, Gingrich said he's trying to edit himself so he doesn't come across as "zany."

Gingrich's remarks at the Republican debate Thursday night were aimed at rival Mitt Romney, who in an interview on Wednesday used the word "zany" to describe the former House speaker.

Gingrich smiled when he was asked a question about how he would counsel Republicans on the political controversy over construction of a new pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

"I sometimes get accused of using strong language. So I have been editing. I don’t want to be zany," Gingrich responded.

"But Iran is practicing on how to close the Strait of Hormuz, and Canada is planning on making a straight shoot to Vancouver so China can take that oil there via tankers.  And you have Obama killing American jobs and taking American energy and stopping that pipeline…it makes no sense to average, regular Americans."

He said Republicans should attach attach a pipeline provision to a bill cutting middle class taxes -- and keep bringing it up. "If Obama vetoes it, it will be like with Clinton where we had to send welfare reform three times before he would sign it.

"We are right and Obama is wrong and we should not back down. This delay in pipeline construction is costing thousands of jobs."