By Larry Margasak
WASHINGTON – One of Congress’ most likable veterans, Rep. Charles Rangel, would become the 23rd House member in the nation’s history to be censured if the House goes along with a recommendation of its ethics committee.
After Thanksgiving, House members will take up the solemn task of disciplining one of their own when the New York Democrat is reproached for financial and fundraising misconduct.
It will be one of the more unpleasant jobs in the waning days of the 111th Congress because the congressman from Harlem is legendary for his friendliness and greetings to anyone he passes on the grounds of the Capitol.
The normally self-confident, 80-year-old Rangel, newly re-elected with 40 years of House service behind him, was reduced to pleading with the ethics committee Thursday to refrain from calling him corrupt.
“Although prior committee precedent for recommendation of censure involved many cases of direct financial gain, this committee’s recommendation of censure is based on the cumulative nature of the violations and not any direct personal financial gain,” the committee said in a report.
The ethics committee deliberated about three hours before voting 9-1 to recommend a censure, plus a requirement that Rangel pay taxes he owes on income from a vacation villa in the Dominican Republic.
If the House agrees to a censure resolution, Rangel would stand before his colleagues at the front of the chamber — known as the well — where the resolution of censure would be read by the speaker of the House.
The House has the option of changing the punishment to a reprimand, which eliminates an oral rebuke at the well.
Rangel was convicted in an ethics trial this week by a panel of lawmakers on 11 counts of ethical wrongdoing, including his use of House letterheads and staff to solicit money for a college center named after him. A number of the donors had business before the House Ways and Means Committee while Rangel served as chairman.
Rangel also filed a decade’s worth of misleading financial statements understating his assets and converted a subsidized New York apartment — designated for residential use — into a campaign office. Other tenants who violated their lease got evicted.
The tax issue was a sore point for several members of the ethics committee, who said it was especially egregious that a former chairman of the House’s tax-writing committee failed for 17 years to pay taxes on the income from his island villa.
It’s unclear how much Rangel owes in taxes. An ethics committee document indicated he owed $16,775 as of 1990, but Rangel has paid some of his back taxes.
The Rangel case won’t end the ethics committee’s business. On Nov. 29, the panel of five Democrats and five Republicans will hold an ethics trial for Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.
Waters is vigorously fighting charges that she improperly attempted to get federal financial aid for a bank where her husband is an investor.