Photo thanks to C-SPAN
Photo thanks to C-SPAN
Charlie Rangel is grieving. He’s grieving for his long-lost Ways & Means gavel. He’s mourning his 40-year reputation as an upstanding public servant that now lies in shreds in the well of the House floor. Today, the 80-year-old Harlem Democrat was censured by the House by a vote of 333-79.
When the news stories first broke about Rangel’s improper use of a rent stabilized apartment as an office, his failure to report rental revenue from a holiday home in the Dominican Republic, and his inappropriate use congressional stationary to solicit corporate funds for a school in his name, Rangel was in denial that he’d done anything wrong. He invited the ethics committee to investigate him. And he then dragged his feet for more than two years, as if hoping the charges would simply go away.
This summer when it became clear the committee would proceed with a public trial on 13 charges of breaking House rules, Rangel took to the floor of the House, indignant of the manner in which his colleagues were treating him. Didn’t they know he’s an honored Korean War veteran? Couldn’t they see how beloved he was at home, winning reelection despite the scandal with 80% of the vote? How dare this treat him — Charlie Rangel — in such a manner?
Rangel and his allies pleaded with his colleagues to downgrade the punishment from a censure – the harshest punishment of the House short of expulsion – to a reprimand. “It is clear under the rules of the House that censure is not the correct punishment for these violations,” Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat, said on the floor today. “My colleagues,” implored Rep. Pete King, of New York, one of two Republicans who voted not to censure Rangel, “I know that we can get caught up in the zeitgeist of media storms and political attacks. But I am imploring you today to take a step back.” The argument did not sway many: the move failed 267-146.
Rangel took to the floor right after the Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s censure. Sounding glum, he accepted his colleagues’ verdict. “We are a political body and even though it is painful to accept this vote, I’m fully aware that this vote reflects the thinking of not just the members but the political tide,” Rangel said. “Hardly anything in there about fairness,” he harrumphed at a press conference afterwards. Rangel then recounted a story of a battle in Korea what he thought he would not survive and in which many of his friends perished. “As I’ve said many times, I haven’t had a real day that’s worse than the one I had November 30, 1950.”
While admitting he made mistakes, Rangel still was adamant that “there is not any evidence that I have not done anything to enrich myself, that I’m corrupt, of tried to sell my office.” While, it’s true that the 13 charges are for relatively minor infractions like breaking the House franking rules, it’s also clear that added up Rangel had lagged severely behind in the new culture of transparency and accountability. He may not have been accused of corruption outright, but his colleagues overwhelming felt his behavior was bad enough to warrant a censure. Rangel blamed his staff and the political climate. He may never fully accept that he was wrong. But he now has a lot of time as a rank-and-file member to ponder the judgment.