Rangel in GOP Cross Hairs

Posted September 9, 2008 at 6:27pm

House Republicans on Tuesday called for embattled Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) to give up his post pending the outcome of multiple ethics investigations, but Democrats dismissed the demand as partisan maneuvering, making it unlikely that the New York lawmaker will forfeit the gavel.

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other leaders made their demand in a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

“Given Chairman Rangel’s continuing ethical lapses, he cannot effectively carry out his duties as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee,” they wrote.

“Thus, in order to remove one obstacle to this Democratic Congress actually addressing and solving working families’ concerns, you, as the Speaker of the House, must insist that Rep. Rangel step down from his Ways and Means chairmanship pending an investigation of his ethical lapses.”

The House ethics committee announced in late July that it had undertaken, at Rangel’s request, a review of two unrelated matters on his living arrangements and use of rent-controlled apartments in New York City, and his fundraising efforts for a City College facility bearing his name.

According to his attorney Lanny Davis, Rangel planned to submit another formal request to the ethics panel Tuesday night to examine his personal finances, specifically his failure to report rental income of more than $75,000 from a Dominican Republic vacation home on his annual financial disclosure forms or his federal or state income tax filings over a 10-year period.

Davis disparaged Boehner’s demands as premature, adding that Rangel has also issued a letter to Pelosi explaining the problems related to his Dominican Republic property.

“Congressman Boehner’s rush to judgment, based entirely on innuendo and partisanship, is ironic given his own complaints in past years of Democrats allegedly rushing to judgment,” Davis said. “Mr. Rangel has asked the ethics committee to look into all of these matters. [The panel] is a bipartisan committee, exactly the opposite of the hyper-partisanship exhibited by the Minority Leader. Mr. Rangel will trust the bipartisan ethics committee to look into the facts involving these issues and to reach an appropriate judgment.”

A Pelosi spokesman echoed those sentiments, characterizing the demands as partisan maneuvering.

“The American people would be better served if Republicans would stop playing politics and allow the bipartisan ethics committee to do its job,” spokesman Nadeam Elshami said. “This letter demonstrates that Republican leaders have no confidence in their Members serving on the ethics committee and that they will do anything to divert attention away from the continuing fallout of the Abramoff scandal and the price the Republican Party is continuing to pay for its culture of corruption.”

But Boehner spokesman Michael Steel asserted that asking Rangel to step aside while the ethics committee completes its work is not without precedent, citing Democrats’ removal of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) from the same panel in 2006.

“Mr. Jefferson was asked to resign from the panel. We’re just asking that Mr. Rangel step aside during the investigation,” Steel said.

At the time Democrats voted to remove him from his Ways and Means seat, Jefferson was under an ethics investigation but had also been subject to multiple FBI raids. He was indicted in June 2007 on charges of racketeering, bribery and fraud.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) said that if a Republican had the same troubles as Rangel, the Democrats would be demanding he step aside. “How can you have a chair of the Ways and Means Committee not know how much taxes he owes? No wonder he doesn’t care if taxes go up — he’s not paying them!”

But Democratic sources pointed to Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), ranking member on the Appropriations panel, and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), ranking member on the Natural Resources panel, both the subjects of federal inquiries — but not ethics panel investigations — noting the pair had not given up their plum assignments.

Neither of the two indicted House lawmakers, Jefferson nor Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), who is facing unrelated charges, currently have committee assignments. Both are under investigation by the ethics committee, although that panel has largely suspended its efforts in deference to federal investigators.

In the Senate, indicted Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) gave up his ranking member slot on the Commerce, Science and Transportation panel and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, but he remains a rank-and-file member of those committees.

In early August, Republicans sought unsuccessfully to censure Rangel over his use of multiple rent-controlled apartments, but the resolution failed on the House floor as more than two dozen GOP lawmakers defected to support the Ways and Means chairman.

GOP sources said Tuesday that it is likely the minority will introduce a similar resolution if Rangel does not give up his post.

According to lawmakers who attended a closed-door Republican Conference meeting Tuesday, Boehner threatened committee positions if lawmakers failed to support his next privileged resolution.

Boehner informed GOP lawmakers that as Minority Leader, Pelosi had successfully offered privileged resolutions without losing any Democratic votes.

“He said, ‘Look, if I’m going to put myself out there in a privileged resolution, I’ve got to have the support of every single Republican,’” one Member said on condition of anonymity. Boehner told them that if they refused, “‘You can expect a different committee assignment.’”

Acting ethics Chairman Gene Green (D-Texas) said he and Pelosi had a brief conversation about the future of the ethics committee during the Democratic National Convention but said no decisions have been made as to whether he would be named permanent chairman.

“The committee is functioning,” Green said, although it is short a Democrat following the August death of Chairwoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio).

Green said the job “takes up a lot of time” and he had earlier sought to leave the committee.

“I’m not seeking the chairmanship,” he said, but he didn’t rule it out. “It’s a job that has to be done.”