Congressional Republicans renew effort to dislodge N.Y. Rep. Charles Rangel

Rep. Charles Rangel (N-N.Y.) has vowed to run for reelection.
Rep. Charles Rangel (N-N.Y.) has vowed to run for reelection. (Harry Hamburg - AP)
  Enlarge Photo    
Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Can Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) survive?

The longtime lawmaker from Harlem, one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971 and chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, will face another challenge this week related to his ethics problems. Congressional Republicans plan to offer a resolution on the House floor that, if approved, would strip Rangel of the committee post he long coveted before he got the gavel in 2007.

Similar GOP efforts failed last year, getting the backing of only two Democrats, but Republicans say they expect more Democrats to defect from Rangel after the House ethics committee reported last week that he violated House rules by attending conferences in 2007 and 2008 in the Caribbean that were funded in part by corporations.

Rangel, 79, also faces accusations that he failed to disclose thousands in assets, improperly used congressional stationery to solicit donations for an academic center bearing his name at a New York college, and used multiple, rent-controlled apartments in Harlem in violation of city law.

Already, Rep. Paul W. Hodes (D-N.H.), who is running for the Senate, has called for Rangel to step aside, saying that "Washington must be held to the highest ethical standards."

"Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she would clean up the corruption in the House, and as the ethics committee has shown, that involves Rangel's activities," said Rep. John Carter (Tex.), a member of the House GOP leadership. "I look forward to seeing the Democrats step up and live up to their promises of following the rule of law."

So far, Democratic leaders have remained on Rangel's side, with Pelosi arguing that "he did not knowingly violate House rules." But Pelosi and others have carefully hedged their support, noting that the ethics committee is still investigating Rangel and that Congress should wait for that process to end.

"I can make a case why he should step down, but I can also make a serious case that he is entitled, as we say in America, to his day in court," Rep. George Miller (Calif.), a member of the House Democratic leadership, said on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers." "I would hope that they [the ethics committee] would wrap up their work as quickly as possible, as fairly as possible, and then the Congress will have to make a decision."

Republicans, who have called for Hodes and other Democrats to give back campaign donations they have received from Rangel, are using his ethics troubles to attack not only Democrats in key races but also Pelosi. The speaker, an ally of Rangel, pledged back in 2006 to run "the most ethical Congress in history" and end what she called a "culture of corruption" created by Republicans when they controlled the House.

Carter's resolution is expected to be voted on Wednesday. It is likely to fail because most of the chamber's 254 Democrats are not yet ready to dump Rangel. But the number of Democratic defections could affect how Pelosi and other party leaders evaluate the controversy, which has being going on for more than 18 months. One top party aide said there was "growing unrest" among members of Congress elected in 2006 and 2008, many of whom ran on anti-corruption platforms.

Even if Democrats in Washington don't push Rangel to step down from his committee, he faces another problem: challengers back home. Vince Morgan, 40, a banker who helped run Rangel's reelection campaign in 2002, is opposing Rangel in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, saying Rangel "has lost touch with bread-and-butter issues" in Harlem. A Republican pastor, Michel Faulkner, has also declared his candidacy in Rangel's heavily Democratic district.

Despite the controversy, and his role in helping craft health-care legislation that could be considered a capstone for his career, Rangel has so far ignored calls to retire and has pledged to run for reelection in the fall.

His office did not return a call seeking comment on the resolution.

Liberal vs. conservative

No wonder Democrats hoped Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) would join them on supporting health care: According to ratings of lawmakers based on their votes in 2009 done by National Journal, Snowe was not just the Senate's most liberal Republican but was to the left of Democrats Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) .

On the House side, Massachusetts in 2009 had the most liberal delegation, and Idaho had the most conservative.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company