In better times, New York Rep. Charles Rangel—better known as Charlie around the Hill—can be seen gliding between his House office building and the Capitol with the air of a man completely at ease with himself, as at home at state dinners as he is sitting on a wall outside of a political convention drinking a brew with his homies.
But on Wednesday, Rangel, who has climbed the ranks to become chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, was forced to endure what has to have been the most humiliating moment in his 40-plus-year career. As he sat quietly in the front row on the House floor, the chamber’s reading clerk read aloud a nine-page resolution sponsored by Rep. John Carter (Texas), House Republican Conference secretary, in the latest attempt to force Rangel to relinquish his chairmanship while an ethics panel completes an investigation into his financial dealings.
Alleged ethical violations include failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in income and assets, failure to disclose rental income from a resort villa in the Dominican Republic on federal and state tax returns, and using congressional stationary for fundraising purposes. The ethics panel is conducting its investigation at the request of Rangel.
“To allow Mr. Rangel to continue to serve as chairman of the very committee with IRS oversight–without paying a nickel in penalties and with no end in sight to his ethics investigation–sends a clear message to the American public that this government refuses to abide by the same laws they impose on the working people of this country,” Carter said on the floor.
Not surprisingly, however, the House voted 246-153 to essentially table the resolution by referring it to the ethics committee, which House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) says demonstrates that Democrats “are once again circling the wagons and demonstrating their loyalty to a leader who faces serious questions about his official conduct” instead of holding him accountable.
Rangel said he’s been waiting patiently for the committee to make a judgment, and the House floor isn’t the place to resolve this matter. But that patience has clearly begun to wear thin. The sparkle in his eye has dimmed and his impeccably tailored wardrobe is beginning to look alarmingly slack. Some of his Congressional Black Caucus colleagues are a bit worried. During a Thursday morning vote, about 15 of them–joined by Representatives Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island and Barney Frank of Massachusetts, gathered around Rangel in a tender huddle of support.