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Today the House of Representatives is expected to vote on a punishment for Congressman Charles Rangel. He's the former chairman of the House's tax-writing committee. The House Ethics Committee found Rangel guilty of 11 violations and says he should be censured. Censure means a public shaming on the House floor. NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY: The House hasn't censured anyone since 1983. Even reprimands, a less severe punishment, have become few and far between. It's a process members detest, which is why plenty of them have wished Rangel would just resign and go home to New York. That would get them off the hook on judging their colleague -something they've never liked to do. Just ask Dan Glickman. He represented Kansas as a Democrat for 17 years, thru 1994 and he saw 11 of his colleagues brought to the floor.
Mr. DAN GLICKMAN: So there you are, you're judging your colleague's conduct, and the whole world is watching. And it's a very personal, wrenching experience. You wish you were someplace else.
OVERBY: Or ask Bob Barr, a former Republican member from Georgia. He says he saw the cases thru the eyes of a prosecutor, which he's also been.
Mr. BOB BARR: It's a necessary part, a very essential part, of maintaining to the greatest degree that we can, the credibility of the House and the confidence that the American people need to have in it.
OVERBY: But Glickman says it's a tough decision.
Mr. GLICKMAN: This is their life, and politics is such a public profession that these things are not very secret.
OVERBY: If a majority of the House votes to censure Rangel, he'll have to stand in the well - that's the open area at the front of the chamber - as Speaker Nancy Pelosi reads an account of his wrongdoing. That wrongdoing includes 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 business people for charity contributions when they had interests pending at Ways & Means. But there is a campaign underway 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's 80 years old, a veteran of 40 years in Congress, and a combat veteran of the Korean War.
Representative CHARLES RANGEL (Democrat, New York): 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 be here today to talk with you.
OVERBY: 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. And here's New York state assemblyman Keith Wright, at a rally held in Rangel's Harlem district last week.
Mr. KEITH WRIGHT(New York State Assembly man): 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 the censure. I will be making phone calls. All of us will be making phone calls.
OVERBY: 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, the venerable lawmaker has lost much of the good will he once enjoyed on Capitol Hill.
Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
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