Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) is likely to learn Thursday whether the House of Representatives will vote to censure him for ethics violations.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The House is expected to vote Thursday on a punishment for Rep. Charles Rangel, the former chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, who was found guilty by the House ethics committee of 11 violations.
The panel voted to recommend to the House that Rangel be censured, which means a public shaming on the House floor. But the House hasn't censured anyone since 1983. Even reprimands, the next harshest punishment, have become few and far between.
It's a process members detest, which is why many have wished Rangel would resign, getting them off the hook for having to judge their colleague.
"So there you are, and you're judging your colleague's conduct, and the whole world is watching," said former Rep. Dan Glickman (D-KS). "And it's a very personal, wrenching experience. You wish you were someplace else."
But former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) says he saw the cases through the eyes of a prosecutor, which he has also been. "It's a necessary part, a very essential part, of maintaining to the greatest degree we can, the credibility of the House and the confidence that the American people need to have in it," Barr said.
Glickman, however, says it's a tough situation. "This is their life, and politics is such a public profession that these things are not very secret," he said.
If a majority of the House votes to censure Rangel, he will have to stand in the well, the open area at the front of the chamber, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi reads an account of his wrongdoings, which include omissions from his financial disclosures, failure to pay tax on some income, and abuse of the New York City rent-stabilization laws. Rangel also hit up businesses for charity contributions when they had interests pending at the Ways and Means Committee.
But there is a campaign under way to reduce the punishment to a reprimand, which would mean the dressing-down would come less publicly in a letter.
The campaign began last month, almost as soon as Rangel made his final comments to the ethics committee. He noted that he is 80 years old, a veteran of 40 years in Congress and a combat veteran of the Korean War.
"I walk away, no matter what your decision, grateful that I had this opportunity to serve, and recognize that had it not been for God's gift in saving my life, I would not even have been here today to talk with you," Rangel said.
So far only a few House Democrats have come out against censure. They say Rangel's offenses aren't as bad as others who were censured.
James Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, said he thought a reprimand would be more in order. New York State Assemblyman Keith Wright, who was at a rally held in Rangel's Harlem district last week, agreed.
"We stand here today, all of us, this cross section of the 15th Congressional District, to urge all members of Congress, all members of Congress from across this nation, to vote 'no' on censure," Wright said. "I will be making phone calls. We will be making phone calls."
Rangel's office has given lawmakers a list of 10 reasons a reprimand is more appropriate. But it is extremely rare for the House to reject a recommendation from the ethics committee, and during the two years Rangel's case has dragged on, he has lost much of the goodwill he once enjoyed among his colleagues.