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Thursday, December 02, 2010

House Votes to Censure Rangel in Ethics Case - NYTimes.com

House Votes to Censure Rangel in Ethics Case - NYTimes.com

WASHINGTON — With his gaze steady and his hands clasped in front of him, Representative Charles B. Rangel stood silently on the floor of House of Representatives on Thursday afternoon as the House speaker read a formal resolution of censure rebuking him for an assortment of ethics violations that brought discredit to Congress.

Despite impassioned last-minute pleas for mercy from Mr. Rangel and a half-dozen of his colleagues, the House voted 333-79 for censure, the sternest punishment it can administer short of expulsion.

Moments after the vote, Mr. Rangel rose from his seat, walked to the well of the House, between the members and the speaker’s podium, where he stood alone as the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, seeming at times uncomfortable, read the one-paragraph resolution censuring him for 11 violations of Congressional ethics rules.

Mr. Rangel asked for a minute to address his colleagues after the censure was read. “I know in my heart I am not going to be judged by this Congress,” he said. “I’ll be judged by my life in its entirety.”

The somber parliamentary rite was as rare as is it is humbling: Just 22 members of the House had been censured before Mr. Rangel, the most recent in 1983, when two members were rebuked for having improper sexual contact with Congressional pages.

The censure marks a staggering fall for Mr. Rangel, 80, a Democrat who has represented Harlem for half of his life, and had risen to become one of the most prominent and well-liked members of Congress.

As a veteran of both the Korean War and the civil rights movement, Mr. Rangel was a feisty advocate of a muscular version of liberalism — fighting to preserve the social safety net with the same zeal he used to oppose military action. When Democrats seized control of the House in 2006, he earned the title of his career- chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means committee, which writes tax policy and had broad influence over spending.

That prominence was short lived.

In July 2008, he was rocked by news reports that he had accepted several rent-stabilized apartments from a Manhattan real estate magnate at prices far below market. True to his brash nature Mr. Rangel fought the charges with brio, asking for the ethics committee to investigate even as he denied any wrongdoing.

In the months that followed, however, a succession of other revelations about his financial dealings raised new ethics questions, including his failure to pay taxes on a beach house in the Dominican Republic or to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets on his financial disclosure forms.

Mr. Rangel’s fund-raising for a City College school being built in his honor also became part of the ethics inquiry because he used congressional stationary and postage to request donations and asked for contribution s from companies and executives with business before Mr. Rangel’s committee. In one case, Mr. Rangel’s committee helped preserve a tax loophole worth hundreds of millions of dollars for an oil drilling company that pledged $1 million.

Mr. Rangel indignantly denied using his office to benefit donors or enrich himself, acknowledging only that he and his staff had made inadvertent book keeping errors. But under heavy pressure he gave up his cherished chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee.

After dragging out the ethics investigation for two years with aggressive legal challenges, Mr. Rangel walked out of a public hearing on the matter last week, saying that he no loner could afford a lawyer. The ethics committee brushed aside his objections— saying that he had been advised to set up a defense fund to pay his legal fees. The panel ultimately found him guilty of 11 of 13 charges.

As the censure vote before the full house neared, Mr. Rangel mounted a lonely campaign to ask House members for the more lenient punishment of reprimand, which would have spared him the humiliation of having to personally appear in Congress as the resolution was read into the record.

His office released a list of 10 reasons that reprimand was a more suitable punishment, arguing that his misdeeds were not as serious as the violations that had merited censure in the past. Mr. Rangel also rallied his supporters, e-mailing 25,000 constituents and admirers and asking them to call the House and urge their representatives to show mercy.

Only a Democrats voted against the censure resolution, however, even after Mr. Rangel and his allies took to the floor urging them to reduce his penalty to a reprimand.

“ I brought it on my myself, but I still believe this body has to be guided by fairness,” Mr. Rangel said, repeatedly asserting that he had tried to enrich himself by his actions.

Several other members spoke on Mr. Rangel’s behalf, including one Republican, Representative Peter T. King of Long Island. Representative Bobby Scott, a Democrat from Virginia, who took part in the Ethics Committee’s investigation, also urged members to use restraint in meting out a punishment.
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