Rangel censured by House colleagues

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio
The House on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to censure Democratic Rep. Charles B. Rangel over charges that he failed to pay taxes and used the power of his office to solicit millions of dollars for a school named after him.

The lawmakers voted 333-79 for censure, the most severe form of punishment in Congress short of expulsion, following an hour-long debate that included an unsuccessful effort by Rangel's New York allies to reduce the punishment to a reprimand.

"This process is about protecting the integrity of the House as much as it is about sanctioning an individual who violated the rules," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who is chairwoman of the House ethics committee, which made the recommendation to censure Rangel.

After the vote, a solemn Speaker Nancy Pelosi summoned Rangel, the former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to the well of the House, and then read the censure resolution. The reading was over in about a minute. The resolution contained no language directly rebuking Rangel, but was instead a mostly technical recitation requiring him to reimburse the treasury for unpaid taxes "and provide proof of the payment" to the House.

Rangel then followed with remarks about his combat experience in the Korean War, which included an account of being left for dead on the battlefield.

"I just apologize for the awkward position some of you are in, but at the end of the day, compared to where I've been, I haven't had a bad day since," Rangel told the House, which responded with a round of applause.

The vote to censure Rangel followed arguments by Empire State lawmakers and other Rangel allies who said the punishment was too stiff.

But a majority of Democrats and all but two Republicans failed to find those arguments persuasive. The GOP members who voted for reprimand were New Yorker Peter King and Don Young of Alaska.

The ethics panel found the 20-term lawmaker guilty of 11 charges for offenses that included using official congressional resources to solicit funds from big corporations for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York. Rangel was also cited for improperly using a rent-stabilized apartment and failing to pay taxes for 17 years on vacation property rental income.

Rangel backers said the charges did not amount to criminal or corrupt behavior and thus did not merit censure, but rather a less serious written admonishment.

"It's clear from the precedents of the House that censure is not a fair and just punishment for these violations," said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.

Scott pointed to violations of a similar nature by past House members, including former Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., that garnered only reprimands.

But Lofgren argued that Rangel deserved censure "precisely because of that failure to put this body and the American people first ... we need a higher standard."

Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Ala., the top Republican on ethics, reminded lawmakers that their constituents were probably tuning in to see how they vote.

"When you go back home this weekend, try explaining to your constituents that it's okay for a powerful member of Congress, the chairman of the tax writing committee, to not pay his taxes," Bonner said.

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Susan Ferrechio

Chief Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner