Updated: 11:38 p.m.
A senior Democratic source told Roll Call late Tuesday night that House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) still plans to give up his gavel Wednesday despite his public protestations to the contrary.
“The long and short of it is he has decided to step down temporarily,” the source said. “I think he just wants to do it on his own terms.”
The source cautioned, however, that Rangel could still change his mind, which would result in a vote on the House floor on removing Rangel from the chairmanship.
Either way, Rangel’s days as chairman may be numbered.
Earlier Tuesday evening, Rangel himself publicly refuted news stories that he planned to surrender his gavel.
Asked after a meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) if he was still going to be the chairman, Rangel said, “You bet your life.”
But Rangel is facing what has become a rapid erosion of support from Democratic lawmakers after being admonished last week by the ethics committee for accepting corporate-funded travel.
If Rangel does step aside temporarily, House rules would give the gavel to Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), but leadership would prefer the gavel go to the more temperate Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.).
At any rate, any “temporary” removal of Rangel as chairman appears likely to become permanent, given that many Democrats expect the ethics committee to give a harsher assessment of Rangel’s array of ethics troubles than the admonishment it delivered in the case of the corporate-funded travel.
More importantly, Rangel has become a growing political liability for rank-and-file Democrats facing a tough election year.
While support for Rangel was weakening especially among junior Members of the Caucus, senior Members didn’t seem eager to defend him, either.
After her meeting with Rangel, Pelosi refused to comment as she left her office and entered her black SUV outside the Capitol.
Earlier Tuesday night, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) declined to comment on whether Rangel should step down.
“I’m not going to discuss that right now,” Hoyer said. “That’s neither a yes or a no.”
And House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said he heard something might happen Tuesday night, but declined to comment on what Rangel should do. “He hasn’t asked for my advice, and I’m not offering it,” Waxman said.
He noted that a larger ethics review into Rangel has yet to be completed.
But it appears increasingly likely that events are about to overtake that larger probe. Other Democratic sources who had expected Rangel to offer his gavel to Pelosi on Tuesday night said they were baffled by his defiance but also remain convinced it is a matter of when and how — not if — the New York Democrat steps aside.