Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill March 3, 2010 in Washington, DC. Rangel announced he is temporarily stepping down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee until the House ethics committee concludes an investigation into possible ethics violations. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

Yesterday, Rangel "temporarily" gave up his post as chairman of Ways and Means while an ethics investigation is under way. (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

By Steve Inskeep

It's hard to grasp the tragedy of Congressman Charles Rangel's fall unless you recall what an amazing character he has been. Today I listened back to a conversation from a much happier time in Rangel's career.

It was November 2006, and we were sitting in his grandly appointed office on Capitol Hill. Democrats had just won control of Congress, which meant that Rangel had achieved a lifelong goal by becoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He was about to take charge of the nation's tax-writing policy and become one of the most powerful African-Americans in the history of the United States up to that time.

And it wasn't just the power, it was the flair, intelligence and wit with which he wielded it. Upon assuming his job, Rangel joked that he didn't want to be treated differently "than any other world leader."

Or was he joking?

"Modesty is not really one of my best traits," he told me on that tape from 2006.

Later in the interview, when the questions got more pointed, he complained, "I thought you were going to be one of those responsible reporters" -- yet he made this remark without a touch of nastiness, as though he relished playing the role as the embattled statesman. A certain joy seemed to come through in his gravelly voice. Setting aside for the moment both the politics and the gravity of the charges he faces, it's sad to have that voice stilled.

Here's that 2006 conversation:

(Steve is co-host of Morning Edition.)

categories: Politics

8:33 - March 4, 2010