Rangel Steps Down From Ways and Means Amid Ethics Scandal

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-New York) relinquished the chairmanship to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee after the House Ethics Committee admonished him for taking corporate-funded trips.

In a press conference Wednesday, Rangel said he asked for a temporary leave of absence until the ethics committee finished its investigation “in view of the fact that my chairmanship is bringing so much attention to the press and in order to avoid my colleagues having to defend me during their elections.”

Rangel declined to take questions, saying, “If I went down that road, it would distract” him from work on health care and job legislation. However, he added that from the “very, very beginning,” he had offered before to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to take this course of action. Pelosi has continued to back him throughout his ethics woes.

The ethics committee concluded last week that Rangel and four other representatives did not know that their trips to conferences in St. Maarten in 2007 and Antigua in 2008 had been funded by corporations. However, it admonished only Rangel, as it found that his staff had known the true source of the financing. While it did not conclude that he knew about his staff’s actions, it held him responsible for their knowledge and actions.

Rangel claimed the report “exonerated” him. He had also been steadfast about retaining his position on the House Ways and Means Committee, answering one reporter who asked whether he was staying on as chairman, “Yes, and I don’t lie to the press.”

The committee is still investigating accusations that Rangel failed to pay income taxes on property in the Dominican Republic, used four rent-stabilized apartments from a Manhattan developer despite House members being forbidden from accepting gifts totaling more than $50, and used his Congressional office to raise money for a college center in his name.

This causes problems for Pelosi, who pledged to preside over “the most ethical Congress in history” and “end a culture of corruption” in the then-GOP-led Congress.

Last year, when the House took two votes on whether Rangel should keep his chairmanship on the tax-writing committee, Democrats supported him. However, with the mounting ethics concerns and reelection races coming soon, more of his party members have called for him to step down.

“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 Rep. Artur Davis (D-Alabama), a fellow member of the House Ways and Means Committee and the first member of the Congressional Black Caucus to speak against him. “An ethics committee admonishment is a serious event and Representative Rangel should do the right thing and step aside as chairman.”

This year, the National Republican Congressional Committee sent press releases to 71 districts controlled by the Democrats, criticizing congressmen for voting in support of Rangel and increasing pressure on the Democrats. And in the days after the ethics committee’s admonition, more Democrats have said they would vote with Republicans against Rangel or have returned monetary contributions he made.

But after Rangel’s announcement, Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), who had planned to introduce a privileged resolution Tuesday to strip Rangel of his chairmanship, said in a statement that his stepping down was “a critical first step in restoring the Rule of Law in the House of Representatives and the nation at large.”

According to Politico.com, Carter himself came under criticism last year when he failed to report several hundred thousand dollars in profits from stock sales on his annual financial disclosure form. However, John Stone, his spokesman, said Carter “remains a viable spokesman for Republicans on the Rangel issue despite his own lapses on disclosure,” while others have argued that Carter cleared the matter up by making his tax records available to the public.

Rangel said later on Wednesday about his decision, “It just seems to me that I should not do anything that would impede the success of other Democrats.”

Pelosi discussed the matter with Rangel Tuesday night and declined to endorse his keeping the chairmanship. She honored his request to step down Wednesday, saying in a statement, “I commend Chairman Rangel for his decades of leadership on jobs, health care, and the most significant economic issues of the day.”

Rep. Pete Stark (D-California), who was next in line for the position, will temporarily step in as Ways and Means chairman. According to the Washington Post, Stark has said that he will only take the gavel “on an interim basis” and will not keep the seat after November’s midterm elections, no matter the outcome of the Ethics Committee’s probe on Rangel.