Speaker Pelosi on Rangel: 'I guess he is still chair of Ways and Means'

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday night told The Hill that Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) is still chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

After huddling with Rangel for 45 minutes, Pelosi initially said, "No comment" when asked if Rangel remains panel chairman.

She later added, "I guess he is still chair of Ways and Means..."

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Pelosi spoke to The Hill after Rangel denied reports he would leave his perch at the top of one of the House's most powerful committees.

As he emerged from the meeting, Rangel was asked whether he is still chairman. His response: "You bet your sweet life!"

He then said Pelosi told him not to say "a damn thing" about the meeting.

When asked whether he would be chairman tomorrow or the next day, Rangel demurred.

“I'm 79 years old,” he said. “At that age, you can't be sure about anything.”

Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami did not step in to clear up the confusion and declined to comment when asked about it.

Rangel has come under increasing pressure to abandon his chairmanship since the House ethics panel last week found he violated House rules by attending a corporate-backed trip. A number of House Democrats have called for him to give up the chairmanship, including Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Ways and Means panel.

House Republicans have sought to force Rangel to step aside from his chairmanship for months, and are set to offer a privileged resolution on Wednesday to force a vote on Rangel's position.

Tuesday evening, several more Democrats joined the ranks of those who either are calling for him to resign, have said they would vote with Republicans on their privileged resolution, or have returned Rangel political contributions in the last week.

Reps. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.) and Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) added their names to the growing list of Democrats calling on Rangel to give up his gavel and returning contributions from him.

“After reviewing the committee’s report and further consideration of their findings and the pending investigations, Rep. Kirkpatrick feels it is appropriate for Congressman Rangel to step down from his chairmanship,” Kirkpatrick said in a statement.

“Congress should be beyond reproach when it comes to ethics and accountability,” Halvorson said.

Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio) stopped short of calling on Rangel to resign, but Tuesday evening expressed deep concern about him staying on as chairman of Ways and Means when the committee is dealing with such high-profile issues as healthcare reform and the jobs bill.

It could be difficult for Democrats to prevent that measure from winning approval or at least garnering enough votes to embarrass the House Democratic leaders. Republicans would undoubtedly use the vote in political ads ridiculing Pelosi’s pledge to “drain the swamp” and run the “most ethical Congress in history” after Democrats regained the majority in 2006.

Before his closed-door session with Pelosi, Rangel also met with Pelosi’s top lieutenant, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who also chairs the Democratic re-election efforts, as well as Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.).

Van Hollen emerged from the meeting and disputed reports that said Crowley had been taking a whip count of Democrats calling for Rangel to step down as chairman.

He also said deliberations about Rangel’s fate were ongoing.

“Members of the caucus and others are going to be discussing that and it’s ongoing,” Van Hollen told The Hill.

Before that meeting, as members were finishing voting Tuesday evening, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also refused to comment on Rangel’s status.

“I’m not going to discuss it right now,” he said.

Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), a member of the Ways and Means Committee, said the topic of Rangel resigning his chairmanship did not come up in a Ways and Means Committee meeting that took place early Tuesday evening.

But Kind said he might know more after a pre-hearing meeting the Ways and Means panel had called for10 a.m. Wednesday before a 10:30 hearing.

Several usually supportive members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) pointedly did not express their support for Rangel Tuesday evening, a stark departure from the last year and a half when members of the CBC stood in solidarity with Rangel as the ethics scandal erupted.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) told The Hill he has “no views” on the topic.

Transcript of Rangel’s comments after meeting with Pelosi Tuesday night:

Reporter: Are you still chairman?

Rangel: You bet your sweet life.

Reporter: Will you still be chairman tomorrow or the next day?

Rangel: I'm 79 years old. You can't be sure about anything.

Reporter: What did Pelosi say to you?

Rangel: She told me not to say a damn thing.

Reporter: Are you still the chairman?

Rangel: Yes. And I don't lie to the press.

This article was originally posted at 8:13 p.m. and updated at 8:48 p.m. and 9:42 p.m.