Rep. Charles Rangel refuses to give up his post as Ways and Means chairman

By Paul Kane and Perry Bacon Jr.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) sounded a defiant note Tuesday, telling reporters that he had no intention of stepping down as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee even as a growing number of Democrats have called for him to give up the post at least temporarily.

House Democrats have become increasingly leery of Rangel, a powerful member, after the House ethics committee admonished him last week for accepting corporate-financed travel.

Among them is Rep. Artur Davis (Ala.), a rising star in the Congressional Black Caucus -- which Rangel co-founded nearly 40 years ago. On Tuesday, Davis became the first caucus member to urge him to give up his gavel.

"Representative Rangel has had a long and distinguished career and I respect his leadership, but I believe Congress needs to do more to restore the public trust," said Davis, who is running for Alabama governor this year. "An ethics committee admonishment is a serious event, and Representative Rangel should do the right thing and step aside."

Later, Rangel met for 40 minutes Tuesday evening with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Many senior aides thought that the meeting was arranged so Rangel could offer his resignation, at least temporarily, and they openly speculated on who would succeed him. But Rangel emerged smiling, telling reporters that most of the time was spent discussing what to tell the news media, despite admonitions from Pelosi to say nothing at all.

Rangel was asked whether he would remain at the helm of Ways and Means -- the committee with jurisdiction over tax and trade issues. He answered, "Yes, and I don't lie to the press."

For her part, Pelosi whispered "no comment" to the two dozen reporters gathered outside her office. The Hill newspaper reported that she later said, "I guess he still is chair of Ways and Means."

Pelosi is facing her most serious ethics quandary since she became speaker three years ago, vowing to run "the most ethical Congress in history." Her fellow Democrats are also facing sharp attacks from Republicans calling for Rangel's ouster.

The ethics committee reprimanded Rangel after concluding that his staff was aware that corporations, such as American Airlines, financed his 2007 and 2008 trips to Caribbean resorts for conferences. That broke new House rules forbidding such privately financed travel. While the committee could not conclude that Rangel knew of the backing, the panel found him culpable for his staff's knowledge.

Since then, more than 10 Democrats have distanced themselves from Rangel, giving back money he donated to their campaigns or saying they would back a Republican-sponsored resolution calling for him to resign his post.

Many senior Democrats remain behind Rangel, for now, citing their belief that the Caribbean ethics charge does not warrant such a steep penalty. Instead they say they will await the outcome of a more serious inquiry.

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