The Rangel Sub-Plot

The stimulus is taking up a lot of oxygen, and you may have forgotten about the troubles of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), but his colleagues haven't.
 
Earlier this week House Democrats turned back an effort by Republicans to sanction Rangel for his numerous ethical woes with a resolution asking him to step down as chairman until the ethics committee concludes its investigation. Some Republicans opposed the resolution, but every Democrat voted against it. Though at least one freshman has returned a contribution from Rangel, the universal support for him on the resolution was noted by the National Republican Congressional Committee, and we will be hearing about it again at the end of the midterm campaigns in 2010.
 
I have written here and in my column about Rangel's ethical problems and the need for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to remove him, at least temporarily, from his chairmanship pending the outcome of the ethics investigation. Pelosi has defended Rangel and has steadfastly refused to budge on this matter, as I have noted here and here
 
As Rangel has raised money for a public policy school named after him in New York, he has not only used House stationery to solicit donations, but was found to have aided a contributor who sought to protect a tax loophole that benefited his oil drilling company. Rangel spoke with the contributor's lobbyist about the vote at the very same meeting where he accepted a large check for his school. To Rangel, this is a "coincidence." He was also found to be paying rent far lower than market price in his Harlem apartment building on four units, one of which was used illegally as a campaign office; he underreported the value of a real estate property in Florida; and owed taxes on $75,000 in rental income on a vacation home in the Dominican Republic.
 
No matter how much Democrats hope it will, the Rangel distraction isn't going away. Earlier this month The New York Times reported a private watchdog group found that Rangel's financial disclosure forms (required for all members of Congress) contained at least 28 omissions in the past 30 years and "failed to account for what became of more than $239,000 in assets." Over the holidays Rangel added another to his list of embarrassments: news that he actually actually paid for parking tickets with campaign money. 
 
What could also be called a coincidence is that the Democratic leadership is not crazy about the prospect of elevating Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) to the chairmanship of the committee. Compared to former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who just lost the opportunity to serve in President Obama's Cabinet because he failed to pay taxes on a gift of chauffeured car, Rangel's laundry list of potential wrongdoing is longer and stronger and under any other circumstances would place him in terrible political peril. He serves in a safe seat, but the Speaker's tolerance of his situation in a key leadership role raises serious questions. Unless the ethics committee clears Rangel of everything, Democrats will pay for protecting him.
 

SHOULD WE STILL BELIEVE OBAMA'S PLEDGE OF BIPARTISANSHIP AND TRANSPARENCY SINCE THE STIMULUS PROCESS WAS NEITHER BIPARTISAN NOR TRANSPARENT? Ask A.B. returns Tuesday, Feb. 17. Please join my weekly video Q & A by sending your questions and comments to askab@thehill.com. Thank you.