A contingent of 26 House Democrats, under heavy lobbying by the National Rifle association, sent Speaker Newt Gingrich a letter Wednesday pledging to help him repeal the assault weapons ban passed last summer as part of President Clinton's hard-won crime bill. The letter, delivered the morning after Clinton vowed during his State of the Union address to fight to turn back any attempts to repeal the ban, says the conservative Democrats are "resolute in our commitment to repealing this ill-conceived measure at the first opportunity." Gingrich has called the repeal "inevitable." But the Speaker "doesn't want to pick a fight right now" with moderate Democrats who might endanger progress on his "Contract With America," says TIME's Tumulty. Instead, Gingrich reportedly struck a deal with the NRA today to delay the vote in exchange for scheduling immediate congressional hearings during which pro-gun groups can air their views.