Gingrich Draws Cheers for Explaining Why Obama Is a ‘Food Stamp President’: ‘And If That Makes Liberals Unhappy...'’

By Susan Jones | January 17, 2012 | 6:06 AM EST

Republican presidential candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during the South Carolina Republican presidential candidate debate Monday, Jan. 16, 2012, in Myrtle Beach, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

( - Pressed to defend his comment that President Obama is a “food stamp president, Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich drew repeated applause -- and the only standing ovation -- at Monday night’s debate, when he said he will “continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job and learn some day to own the job."

Gingrich also said he was not trying to insult black Americans by suggesting that poor kids work as janitors in their schools.

Fox News' moderator drew boos as he framed the question at the debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Monday night:

"Speaker Gingrich, you recently said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps. You also said poor kids lack a strong work ethic and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools. Can’t you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?" Williams asked.

"No. I don’t see that," Gingrich replied. He said his own daughter did janitorial work at a Georgia church when she was 13. "And she liked earning the money. She liked learning that if you worked, you got paid."

Gingrich said 30 kids could be hired for the price of one union janitor. “[A]nd those 30 kids would be a lot less likely to drop out. They would actually have money in their pocket. They’d learn to show up for work. They could do light janitorial duty. They could work in the cafeteria. They could work in the front office. They could work in the library. They’d be getting money, which is a good thing if you’re poor. Only the elites despise earning money."

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Amid applause for Gingrich, Williams interjected, saying he's heard from many people of all races "who are asking if your comments are not intended to belittle the poor and racial minorities." Williams mentioned a woman who asked Gingrich at a black church in South Carolina why he calls Barack Obama "the food stamp president."

"It sounds as if you are seeking to belittle people," Williams said:

"First of all, Juan, the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.  Now I know among the politically correct, you’re not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable,” Gingrich said – to laughter.

"Second, you’re the one who earlier raised a key point. There’s — the area that ought to be I-73 -- was called by Barack Obama a corridor of shame because of unemployment. Has it improved in three years? No. They haven’t built the road. They haven’t helped the people. They haven’t done anything." The crowd erupted in cheers.

"So here’s my point," Gingrich concluded: I believe every American of every background has been endowed by their creator with the right to pursue happiness. And if that makes liberals unhappy, I’m going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job and learn some day to own the job."

That remark drew the only standing ovation of the debate.