Rangel Announces Leave of Absence at Ways and Means
Rep. Charles Rangel, the animated but controversial head of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, has decided to step down — at least temporarily — from his perch atop the panel, according to news reports.
The 20-term New York Democrat had been admonished last week by the House Ethics Committee, which found that Rangel had violated congressional lobbying rules when he was flown to Caribbean business conferences in recent years at the expense of corporate sponsors.
The Ethics Committee finding was odd for a number of reasons. (1) The same House Ethics Committee had approved the trips before Rangel ever boarded a plane. (2) Other lawmakers on the same junkets were cleared of all wrong-doing. And (3) the ethics panel conceded that Rangel himself didn’t know about the corporate sponsorships, though members of his staff allegedly did.
“Common sense dictates that members of Congress should not be held responsible for what could be the wrongdoing or mistakes or errors of staff unless there is reason to believe the members knew or should have known,” Rangel said last week.
Considering all of that, some Washington prognosticators were speculating that the recent admonishment was the least of the problems facing Rangel, who is being investigated for a laundry list of separate ethics violations. As The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart pointed out last week:
There’s the use of official stationary to solicit funds for a school of public policy named after him, the rent-controlled apartments and the revised financial disclosure forms that potentially double his net worth. Among other things, those forms revealed not one, but two checking accounts with up to $500,000 in them. I don’t know about you, but I’d be very mindful of having that much coin in checking. I can’t wait to hear Rangel’s explanation. There doesn’t seem to be anyone to throw under the bus for that one.
Meanwhile, Democrats will have to name a replacement for Rangel atop the Ways and Means panel — no easy task considering that the next in line, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), is even more controversial than Rangel.