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Rangel: The Democrats’ millstone?

Charles Rangel took a leave of absence as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee after being reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee for taking trips that were improperly funded. The congressman is also under investigation for other alleged transgr

Nancy Pelosi seems to have misplaced her broom, said Rich Lowry in National Review. When the California congresswoman took over as House speaker in 2006, she promised to preside over the most ethical Congress in history. “Maybe it will take a woman to clean up the House,” she said, cheekily. So why isn’t Pelosi now demanding that Democratic New York Congressman Charles Rangel give up his chairmanship of the powerful Ways and Means Committee? Rangel reluctantly took a leave of absence as committee chairman last week, after the House Ethics Committee reprimanded him for taking trips to Antigua and St. Maarten that were paid for by lobbyists and corporations. Rangel also faces myriad other investigations into allegations that he “forgot” to disclose $500,000 of his net worth on financial disclosure forms, and didn’t pay taxes on rental income from his condo in the Dominican Repub­lic. Yet Pelosi is still defending Rangel, saying he hadn’t done “something that jeopardized our country.” Perhaps Pelosi “is too busy nationalizing health care” to rid Congress of corruption.

Rangel is indefensible, said Joan Walsh in Salon.com, but he’s no Tom DeLay. Republicans have seized on the Rangel scandal—and scandals involving Democrats such as New York Gov. David Paterson and Rep. Eric Massa—in hopes that 2010 will be for Democrats what 2006 was for the GOP: “the year voters punished the party for its corruption.” But Rangel is small potatoes compared with former House Majority Leader DeLay, who conspired with Jack Abramoff to turn Congress and the lobbyists on K Street into a single corrupt entity, working to re-elect Republicans and fill their campaign coffers with cash. When DeLay’s corruption was laid bare, said Joe Conason, also in Salon.com, Republicans and their “pet media outlets” circled the wagons around him. In fact, National Review scoffed at the ethics charges and urged him to stay on as leader. Since when did Republicans start “to worry so much about ethical purity”?

Rangel’s transgressions may be relatively minor, said Peter Beinart in TheDailyBeast.com, but he nonetheless poses a grave danger to Pelosi and the Democrats. Corruption scandals turn off independent voters, who are already in a sour mood because of the economy and thus may be open to the argument that “the folks running government are malevolent and corrupt.” If that perception is widespread next November, say goodbye to the Democrats’ majority.

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