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Democrats Look to Lessen Rangel Punishment

Democratic lawmakers are pursuing multiple avenues to scale back the House ethics committee’s proposed punishment of Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said Thursday, declaring that the chamber’s Members are entitled to “have options on this vote.”

The North Carolina lawmaker, who sits on the ethics committee but noted that he was not speaking for the panel, said: “In the Democratic Caucus, there’s lots of support for reprimand.”

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct voted Nov. 18 to recommend censure, a lecture on the House floor that is the chamber’s most stringent form of punishment short of expulsion.

But Rangel has mounted a full-scale campaign to persuade his House colleagues to reduce the punishment to a reprimand, which would still require a House vote but would not include a public lecture. The New York Democrat acknowledged his wrongdoing, but he has argued that a censure is too severe because the ethics committee concluded that his actions were not corrupt.

Butterfield distributed materials to reporters Thursday to contrast Rangel’s rules violations with those of previously censured Members. He also offered transcripts of Rangel’s ethics trial, highlighting statements by the ethics committee’s chief counsel in which he stated that the committee’s investigation found no evidence of corruption.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who spoke to reporters off the House floor along with Butterfield, said Thursday that Rangel’s “friends” are whipping the effort on the House floor.

“We’re not trying to make any points today. … This is not symbolism. We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t think we had a reasonable chance,” Cleaver said.

Butterfield identified several procedural maneuvers that Democrats could employ to reduce Rangel’s potential punishment to a reprimand, but he said he could not identify which action would be used.

“There are various vehicles that can get a reprimand before the body,” Butterfield said, citing motions to amend, refer or recommit the censure resolution. “We’ve had multiple conversations with the parliamentarian.”

Neither Butterfield nor Cleaver would identify which lawmakers are expected to offer a motion to reduce Rangel’s potential punishment to a reprimand.

Debate on the resolution will be limited to one hour, which will be controlled by ethics Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). Butterfield said Lofgren will grant Rangel 30 minutes of that time, which he may use himself or allow other Members to speak on his behalf. The remaining time will be evenly divided between the committee’s Democratic and Republican members.