House votes to censure Rep. Rangel
Friday, December 3, 2010
In the final minutes as the votes were tallied on the board above him, Rep. Charles B. Rangel stood alone, his mouth open, watching the count rise. After 21/2 years of pleading his innocence and $2 million in legal fees, the moment the New York Democrat had so feared - a vote of censure by his colleagues - had arrived.
And he knew it. Rangel took a seat in the chair closest to the front of the House chamber, so that when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) began the formal censure ritual - "Will the gentleman from New York, Mr. Rangel, kindly appear in the well?" - his walk of shame was but a pair of steps.
Most of the 22 other men in his position have turned to face the House chamber, but Rangel instead faced Pelosi, his hands clasped in front of him.
The scolding lasted less than 45 seconds: Pelosi read a formal resolution of censure that contained all the flourish of a procedural motion on a tax bill.
When she finished delivering the first congressional censure since 1983, Rangel politely asked to address his colleagues. He apologized for the "awkward" moment and reiterated his contention that he never tried to "enrich myself." Then Rangel returned to the same defiant tone that has epitomized his 40-year tenure in Congress, particularly since the summer of 2008, when allegations of possible wrongdoing first emerged.
"I know in my heart I'm not going to be judged by this Congress," said the 80-year-old former chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Despite the censure, he said, he still has not had a bad day since he was nearly killed on the Korean War battlefield 60 years ago.
Rangel then marched into a press room in the Capitol Visitor Center and spent 25 minutes exerting the sort of confidence and relief that usually comes from an acquittal. "I leave here knowing that everybody knows I'm an honest guy," he told reporters.
Despite a concerted effort by supporters to downgrade Rangel's punishment to a reprimand, the House voted 333 to 79 for censure.
With 170 Democrats joining all but two Republicans, the chamber approved the condemnation for 11 rules infractions that included 17 years of unpaid taxes on property in the Dominican Republic, more than $500,000 in undisclosed financial assets and inappropriately raising millions of dollars for a New York City college from corporations with business before the Ways and Means Committee.
Several dozen of Rangel's closest friends fell short in their effort to reduce the sanction to a reprimand, which would not have required the public rebuke by Pelosi. They argued that censure had been reserved for only the most "severe" breaches of public trust. But that amendment fell short, with just 146 votes.
The hour-long debate began shortly after 4 p.m. Thursday, with the House chamber nearly full. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House ethics committee - which voted 9 to 1 two weeks ago to recommend censure - told her colleagues that it was Rangel's "accumulation of actions" that tipped the scale toward giving him the more stringent penalty.
"We need a higher standard," said Lofgren, acting as the lead prosecutor.