Feature

Ethics charges: Big trouble for Democrats

Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters were each accused of ethics violations by the House ethics committee.

For Democrats, it just keeps getting worse, said Naftali Bendavid and Brody Mullins in The Wall Street Journal. Last week, Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters were each accused of ethics violations by the House ethics committee. They’ve proclaimed their innocence and opted to fight, raising the specter of high-profile ethics trials taking place just before November’s midterm elections, in which Democrats already faced a rebellion by unhappy voters. Rangel, of Harlem, faces 13 charges, including failing to pay income taxes on a vacation rental home. Waters, of South Central Los Angeles, is accused of using her office to seek government bailout funds for a bank in which her husband owned stock. There’s a racial angle, too, said David M. Herszenhorn and Carl Hulse in The New York Times. Since both lawmakers are black, some Democrats fear that Republican opponents will seek to “turn the ethics questions into a race issue,” tapping the resentments and fears that already exist in white swing districts. 

There are black victims here, said John Podhoretz in the New York Post, but they’re the citizens Rangel and Waters allegedly represent. Rangel has been “the dominant political actor for four decades” in Harlem. Yet it wasn’t until his corrupt political machine collapsed in the 1990s that “honest, private-sector development” finally began to thrive in that community. Suggestions that Waters and Rangel were “targeted” on racial grounds are “absolutely ridiculous,” said Jonathan Capehart in The Washington Post. More than a dozen white members are currently under investigation, which proves that the ethics committee is “an equal opportunity investigator.”

Still, Rangel and Waters look like scapegoats, said Margaret Carlson in Bloomberg.com. The House is full of members who cut ethical corners, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants a “scalp” to prove she has ended the “culture of corruption” she denounced when Republicans were in charge. To truly end that corrupt culture, said Joe Klein in Time.com, you’d have to address Congress’ biggest problem—“the high-tech gerrymandering of safe seats.” Due to the careful drawing of district lines to preserve racial and political imbalances, neither Waters nor Rangel ever faced real electoral competition. That security inevitably breeds arrogance. It’s also why Waters and Rangel “don’t give a fig about the Democratic Party’s fate” this fall. Simply put, they don’t have to.

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