Rep. Rangel dares House to expel him

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) maintained that he did not intentionally break any House rules and complained about the investigation and trial process conducted by the House ethics panel, which has brought 13 charges against him. 

"It may be stupid, it may be negligent, but it's not corrupt," Rangel said in a meandering speech that lasted more than 30 minutes. 

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In professing his innocence of all charges, Rangel also invited the ethics panel and House to take its shot at expelling him. 

"I'm not asking for leniency, I'm asking for exposure of the facts," Rangel said.

"If I can't get my dignity back here, then fire your best shot at getting me expelled," the 20-term lawmaker said.

Earlier in his speech, Rangel said, "I am not going away. I am here," triggering light applause from some lawmakers.

It takes two-thirds of the House to expel a member.

A Democratic lawmaker who requested anonymity said House Democratic leaders attempted to persuade Rangel not to deliver his speech. The Democratic source called Rangel's address a "train wreck."

The ethics committee nearly reached an agreement with Rangel for the House to reprimand him, but that deal fell apart last month.

"This has to stop sometime. It has to stop," Rangel said, pointing out he requested the ethics probe more than two years ago. "I deserve and demand the right to be heard."

Rangel noted that while other members will be at home this August trying to get reelected, he is facing a Sept. 14 primary with the schedule of his ethics trial still unclear. Polls show Rangel ahead in his primary — however, he indicated the ethics process will still be ongoing when he faces the voters next month.

Hundreds of House members flocked to the floor to hear Rangel. At the end of it, many Democrats applauded, and some of them rose to their feet. 

The House broke off its recess to return to Washington on Tuesday to pass a $26 billion state-aid package. Legislators will return to their districts at the end of the day.

Many politically vulnerable Democrats would like the ethics controversies surrounding Rangel and fellow Congressional Black Caucus member Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) to fade away. Upcoming trials for both veteran lawmakers come at a bad time for Democrats; they could begin less than two months before an election in which Democrats are in danger of losing the House. 

Rangel acknowledged those worries, but made it clear he would publicly fight the charges and not resign, which would save Democrats the distraction of a trial.

"I know a lot of you might want me to go away," Rangel said. "I am not going away ... I'm here."

That statement was likely directed at the 10 House Democrats who have publicly called on Rangel to step aside.

Rangel said he had been "losing a lot of sleep" over the charges. 

"I'm prepared to say, I apologize for any embarrassment that I have caused," he added.

He said that he took the floor against the advice of his lawyers and some of his colleagues and friends.

"But hey, I'm in a position, hey, I'm 80 years old. All my life has been in public service," he said. "Don't leave me swinging in the wind until November."

Playing off the fact that the House returned from recess to approve emergency aid, Rangel asked, "What about me?"

Rangel recently expressed frustration with the president's remark that Rangel should end his career "with dignity," a statement that many viewed as pushing the former Ways and Means Committee chairman toward retirement or resignation.

But in his speech on Tuesday, Rangel said Obama did not put a "time limit" on his dignity statement. That means the president believes Rangel has the right to defend himself via the ethics process, according to Rangel.

Rangel referred to the president several times in his speech. At one point, Rangel noted that he supports Obama's trade policies, which have irritated some Democrats on Capitol Hill. 

During the White House press briefing on Tuesday, spokesman Bill Burton said, "What the president -- I think the president's words speak for themselves. ... Like we said, we are not prejudging the outcome of this bipartisan process. The president was asked a question, he answered it and I have made it crystal clear on a number of occasions that we are not prejudging the process."

Most of Rangel's address was dedicated to what he believes is an unfair ethics process, his rebuttal of the charges against him, and how he is running out of money to pay his lawyers.

Rangel said he has spent $2 million on legal fees, but suggested he may get some pro bono assistance before adding, "I'll expect leadership to help me."

For the most part, Rangel struck a conversational tone throughout his speech, though he appeared to become a bit emotional when relaying his apologies to the leadership of the House and its newer members. 

Democratic leadership officials expressed frustration with Rangel's decision to deliver his speech as the House acted to prevent thousands of teacher layoffs with its $26 billion bill.

Several Democratic leadership aides rolled their eyes when asked for reaction to the address.

One Democratic aide said, "Rambling, rambling…Why in the world would he think this would help his cause?"

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said, "Every member has a right to express themselves. He availed himself of that right."

Hoyer said that he didn’t think that the "ethics committee is going to be swayed" by Rangel’s pleas.

Rangel's New York colleague, Rep. Peter King (R), said he "wished" that Rangel had not given the speech.

"It just reminds people of the issue, the more you talk about something like this, the more you are going to open up more issues," he said.

King broke with his party on two GOP resolutions in 2009 that sought to remove Rangel as Ways and Means Committee chairman. King was one of 5 Republicans who defected during a Feb. 10, 2009 motion and he was one of 3 Republicans who bucked his party on a second Rangel measure on Oct. 7, 2009.

Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), a CBC member who fell short in his bid to become governor this year, said the Rangel speech was a "definite
distraction" and an "exhibit A-type of distraction" Democrats would have rather avoided the day they passed a jobs bill.

"This should have been a good day for Democrats, in an ideal world," he said.

Davis, as well as several Republicans, however, said some of Rangel's points were good ones.

"Any member who faces a significant challenge is going to insist on a full-scale public accounting of the charges," Davis said.

Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), a former prosecutor who sits on the Ways and Means Committee, said Rangel should know when the public trial will take place.

"At the very least, he’s entitled to due process," Kind said.

Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), a former chairman of the Republicans' campaign committee, agreed.

"He has the right and members have the responsibility to let him make whatever case he wants to make,” he said.

Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), a leading critic of Rangel who offered several resolutions to force him from his chairmanship over the last two years, also said Rangel deserves a hearing as soon as possible.

"As a lawyer, though, I don’t think I would have been happy that he made that speech," Carter said.

Rep. Gene Green (Texas), one of the two Democrats on the investigative subcommittee that produced the charges against Rangel, said he was not offended by the speech but declined to comment further. Rangel cited Green several times on Tuesday, but not by name and instead as the chairman of the ethics panel that brought the charges against him.

In written testimony, Green has strongly defended the ethics panel's work, disagreeing with Rangel's assertions that his due process rights were violated during the investigation.

Molly K. Hooper contributed to this article, which was last updated at 5:15 p.m.