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House Dems Divided Over Rangel

The House leadership may not be ready to pressure embattled Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) to step down, but his colleagues are starting to amp up their criticism. Yesterday Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick of Idaho joined Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) in saying that the veteran congressman should resign from the House over potential ethics violations. A growing number of nervous Democrats have also announced they will donate the campaign funds they received from Rangel to charity.

Republicans, for their part, have had a field day singling out Democratic lawmakers who have thus far held on to campaign funds linked to Rangel, but appear in no rush to call for Rangel’s resignation:

The National Republican Congressional Committee issued more than 40 news releases criticizing lawmakers who had not returned their Rangel-linked donations, such as Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.), a former Ways and Means aide who has collected more than $80,000 through Rangel. But Republicans have been careful not to call for Rangel’s resignation, hopeful that he will fight out the public trial throughout September and place Democrats in an uncomfortable spot.

House Democratic leadership, on the other hand, continues to withhold judgment, claiming yesterday that they had not spoken to Rangel on the issue. Aware of the potential political cost of an open ethics trial against Rangel in September, they nonetheless appear hesitant to force the 40-year incumbent’s hand. Nor do they seem particularly eager to further alienate the Congressional Black Caucus, which threatened last December to withhold support for financial regulatory reform until the administration did more to help minority-owned businesses.

Yesterday evening, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, issued a statement that warned against casting premature judgement in the case of the Black Caucus’s co-founder, arguing that such a stance “violates the core American principle of the presumption of innocence.”

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