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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
One of the most powerful members of Congress was forced to step down from a key post today under a cloud of ethics allegations. New York Democrat Charles Rangel was the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee until this morning, that's when he announced he would take a leave of absence from the post.
NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.
ANDREA SEABROOK: After an eight-month investigation, the House Ethics Committee publicly admonished Congressman Charles Rangel last Friday. It found that he had taken trips to conferences in the Caribbean that were paid for in part with corporate money. The Ethics Committee said it didn't have reason to believe that Rangel knew about the trips' funding, but that some of Rangel's staff did.
Some Republicans had called for him to step down last year, but it was calls from Rangel's fellow Democrats that finally forced his hand.
Representative CHARLES RANGEL (Democrat, New York): In order to avoid my colleagues having to defend me during their elections, I have, this morning, sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi, asking her to grant me a leave of absence until such time as the Ethics Committee completes its work.
SEABROOK: Though Rangel called it a leave of absence, there's nothing under the House rules that allows him to do that, so he effectively resigned from the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee. And no one expects him back any time soon.
The Ethics Committee is investigating several other allegations against him: that he used official congressional letterhead in a campaign to raise money for a New York college center to be named after him, that he didn't disclose in financial forms a rental property he owns in the Dominican Republic, and that he didn't pay taxes on the income from it.
Again, these are just among the investigations that are still open against Rangel. The recent ruling was potentially just the first blow.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): The Ethics Committee has spoken.
SEABROOK: House Republican leader John Boehner, this morning.
Rep. BOEHNER: He does not deserve to be a member of the Democrat leadership nor as chairman of this committee.
SEABROOK: House Ways and Means is a very powerful committee. It writes all tax laws and also has its hands in everything from Social Security and Medicare to welfare and unemployment benefits. It wrote one of the three large pieces of the health care bill that the House passed last year.
The next ranking Democrat on the committee is California's Pete Stark and he'll act as chairman for the time being.
Among the Democrats who called for Rangel to step down was Gene Taylor, a moderate from Mississippi. He harkened back to the ethical problems of Republicans when they controlled the House.
Representative GENE TAYLOR (Democrat, Mississippi): One of things that we promised, if given the opportunity to govern, would be a higher ethical standard than the other guys had. And quite frankly, I think this is in keeping with that and it was the right thing for him to do. And I appreciate him stepping aside.
SEABROOK: Other Democrats echoed that sentiment, even Rangel's closest allies. Congressman John Lewis works with Rangel in the Congressional Black Caucus and is on Ways and Means. Lewis said the committee met this morning and it was clear what had to happen.
Representative JOHN LEWIS (Democrat, Georgia): I think all members of the committee on our side were very sad to see him for he had been a very good chair.
SEABROOK: Rangel says he'll keep working on health care and a jobs bill, though the other ethics investigations will likely keep him busy as well.
Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.
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