Rep. Rangel Bows to Pressure and Temporarily Quits Tax Post


Republicans won't have U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) to kick around any more -- or at least, not as effectively. Rangel, the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday asking to be granted a leave of absence from the chairmanship until the House Ethics Committee completes its investigation into allegations that the congressman broke House rules. He announced the move at a press conference and took no questions.

On Tuesday he had met with Pelosi, who sources say asked him to resign the post at that meeting. But following that meeting, he indicated that he didn't plan to quit. One day and continuing pressure from Democratic members of the House can certainly change someone's mind quickly.

Rangel, a lawmaker from Harlem, has served in the House since 1971, when he was one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus. He took over as chairman of Ways and Means in 2007 and was the first African American to hold the position.

Republicans had planned to offer a resolution on the House floor that, had it passed, would have been a "no confidence" vote in Rangel, though only the Democratic Caucus can strip Rangel of his committee post. A similar Republican effort to oust him failed last year, when only two Democrats voted with the GOP, but Pelosi let Rangel know that more Democrats were expected to defect this time, and that his chairmanship was at risk.

His Fate Now Rests With the Bipartisan Ethics Committee

Rangel lost favor with Democrats when the Ethics Committee reported last week that he had violated House rules in 2007 and 2008 by attending conferences in the Caribbean that were funded in part by corporations. He faces further accusations that he failed to disclose thousands of dollars 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.

Clearly if these allegations prove to be true, he should not hold the leadership post of a committee that controls all the tax bills in the House of Representatives. His fate now rests with the Ethics Committee, composed of three Democrats and three Republicans, which is still investigating the other matters relating to the rent-controlled apartments and the fund-raising.

At 79, Rangel has served his district admirably for 39 years. He should have seen the writing on the wall last year and avoided this mess by stepping aside sooner.

Democratic leaders remained loyal to Rangel even as the evidence against him built. Pelosi said, "he did not knowingly violate House rules," but has carefully hedged her bets waiting for the Ethics Committee investigation to end. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who is a member of the House Democratic leadership, said on C-SPAN, "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. I would hope that [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."

Democrats Sander Levin of Michigan or Pete Stark of California are candidates to lead the tax-writing committee temporarily.