Rep. Rangel: Concentrating On 'Moving Forward'

An ethics investigation severely damaged a leading House Democrat: Charles Rangel of New York. Rangel was censured by the House last week and has lost his chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Steve Inskeep talks with Rangel about where he goes from here.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now let's follow up on the ethics case against a very prominent member of the House - Democrat Charles Rangel of New York. Rangel was censured by the House last week - in effect a public shaming for a series of ethics violations. He'd already been forced to give up his leadership post at the head of a powerful tax writing committee in the House. You can imagine Charles Rangel choosing to retire now. But when we spoke, he suggested no such thing.

You've lost your committee chairmanship. Your party has lost the majority in the House. And you've been censured by the House of Representatives. How do you start over after all that?

Representative CHARLES RANGEL (Democrat, New York): Well, I don't know when(ph) you really start over. When you're 80 years old, you don't start over, you continue. And like every setback that I think that most people have, you analyze what went wrong, try to correct it, and move forward.

INSKEEP: You spent many, many years climbing to a position of power in the House of Representative and then lost it. You spent years trying to get your party into the majority in the House through the '90s and up until 2006. And it could conceivably be a while before your party gets back in the majority again. Do you have time to get back on top again?

Rep. RANGEL: Well, only God would know how much time I have to do anything. Wouldn't you agree? And quite frankly, I feel satisfied that I have an opportunity(ph) to do what it appears has been mandated - you know, over(ph) 80 percent of the voting people say go down there, Rangel, and continue to do your job. And that's what I'm trying to do.

INSKEEP: And we also have to mention there is an outside group that has been critical of you in the past that is now criticizing the way that you paid for your legal defense, that you had money removed from a political action committee. Political donations were used to pay your lawyers. Is that accurate?

Rep. RANGEL: No, it's not accurate. But, you know, anyone can make an accusation. And if you take a look at that group, you would know - and I hope your listeners would know - that they have decided to target me when I became the senior member on the Ways and Means Committee.

INSKEEP: Well, I don't want to dwell on this, but I thought that your office's position had been that actually your leadership political action committee did help to pay your lawyers bills, but that you believe that was a legitimate use of money. Is that correct?

Rep. RANGEL: I don't want to dwell anything. All I know is that my lawyers have told me that we haven't done a darn thing that deviates from the law. So I don't want to dwell on it, either, but I'm not certain that you don't want to dwell on this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. RANGEL: And, quite frankly, there's so many things that I have to do today and this week in terms of taxes, trying to get extended unemployment...

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

Rep. RANGEL: ...that I really want to concentrate on moving forward. And...

INSKEEP: Well, I'm glad you mentioned taxes, Congressman...

Rep. RANGEL: Right.

INSKEEP: ...because President Obama, as you know, has compromised with Republicans, announced a compromise this week that many Democrats have been dismayed by extending President Bush's tax cuts, including for the wealthy, among other steps that are part of the compromise. Can you support that?

Rep. RANGEL: Not at this particular time. We haven't been involved in the negotiation. The president clearly has spoken with some people on the other side. All we know is that in terms of getting support for extended unemployment compensation, the deficit is going to take a hell of a hit, and some of us believe that if we don't cut a deal that really helps our country in terms of the deficit and taxes in this session, we will not be in a better position in two years when we have presidential and senatorial and House of Representative elections.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask you, congressman, a question about power, then. The way that the Republicans got into that room with the president was not only winning the election, but making it clear that they were not going to let a plan pass unless it was acceptable to them. Are Democrats united enough to say to the president if we're not happy with this compromise, we can prevent it from passing and we're willing to go to mat and do that?

Rep. RANGEL: No. Democrats are not united. Democrats are not opposed. Democrats are not threatening to bring down the president or to cast a vote against the negotiated offer that they're making. Having said that, the pain and the suffering in terms of cost is something that Republicans and Democrats have to look at. And right now, on the face of it, it doesn't appear to be a fair balance in terms of what we are saving in what the Republicans have agreed that they're going to do. And I'm afraid that the bells are ringing and I'm being called to work.

INSKEEP: You're going to go vote?

Rep. RANGEL: I have to go vote. So...

INSKEEP: Congressman Charles Rangel, thanks very much.

Rep. RANGEL: Thank you so much.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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