A darkening cloud over Rangel

An House ethics panel moved to begin proceedings against Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel that could end in his expulsion.

Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, the fourth-longest-serving member of the House, scrambled for his political survival this week, after a House ethics panel moved to begin proceedings that could end in his ouster. Rangel, 80, who four months ago was pressured to leave his post as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, has been accused of a range of ethical violations, including failure to pay 20 years of taxes on rental income from a Caribbean villa, illegally renting multiple rent-controlled apartments in Manhattan, and using his letterhead to solicit donations for an academic center that bears his name.

Rangel has vowed to fight to clear his name, but as The Week went to press, he was reportedly trying to avoid a public trial by admitting to at least some infractions. The last time the House formed the panel taking up Rangel’s case was eight years ago, and it resulted in the expulsion of Rep. James Traficant, who later went to prison.

Rangel has portrayed the charges as “it-could-happen-to-anyone accounting errors,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. But not even his follow Democrats are buying that anymore. Indeed, “the charges appear to be the kind that would cost any normal citizen a big fine, if not jail time.”

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Democrats are praying that the Rangel case will just disappear, said the Chicago Tribune, but it won’t. These allegations have been swirling for two years, yet Speaker Nancy Pelosi—who once famously promised to “drain the swamp” of Congress—coddled Rangel “until he became too great an embarrassment.” Democrats have proved that once they’re in power, they can be just as arrogant as Republicans.

Still, what a sad climax to an impressive career, said John Nichols in The Nation. “Brilliant, funny, and ideologically agile,” Rangel for decades was an effective advocate for progressive tax and social policies. Still determined to fight, he’s facing a primary challenge from State Rep. Adam Clayton Powell IV, whose legendary father Rangel dethroned in 1970. “That’s politics.”

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