By Mike Lillis - 12/03/10 12:53 AM EST
Rep. Charlie Rangel wavered between remorse and defiance at a short but rambling press conference after the House voted to censure him.
Rangel (D-N.Y.) offered apologies for mistakes but not for challenging the charges for the last two years.
“I relied too much on staff,” he said at one point, while in the next breath conceding that only he is to blame for the violations.
“History will show,” he said, “that a different standard has been used in this case.”
Rangel was speaking just minutes after the House voted to censure him in a 333-79 vote. The punishment is rare; it has been used only four times in the last 100 years.
The veteran lawmaker was punished for a series of ethics missteps that had resulted in a recommendation of censure from the House ethics panel.
Rangel argued, however, that Thursday's verdict was above all else fueled by politics, and not by any feelings of animosity or disrespect held toward him by his colleagues.
“We do know that this is a political body, and I am satisfied that people voted their districts,” he said. “I am at rest with myself. ... I leave here knowing that everyone knows I'm an honest guy.”
Asked if he'll remain in Congress through the 112th Congress — or run again for a seat in the 113th — Rangel was enigmatic. “At my age I don't buy green bananas,” he said.
The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), of which Rangel is a founding member, condemned Thursday's verdict, saying censure was an "overly harsh sanction" given the nature of the violations.
"Under House precedents, a reprimand would have been a fairer sanction for the lapses that he has long since admitted and corrected," CBC Chairwoman Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said in a statement. "According to the Committee’s counsel, Congressman Rangel’s misconduct resulted from overzealousness and sloppiness, not corruption."
Many of Rangel's supporters appeared shell-shocked following the vote. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the hero of the Civil Rights movement, declined to comment. “Sad day,” he said.
Rangel is respected and well-liked by many members of the House in both parties, making his censure a somber moment for the chamber.
It was fitting perhaps, that a priest, House Chaplain Daniel Coughlin, walked through the Speaker's lobby as the vote came to a close.
Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), who took over as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee after Rangel was forced to step down earlier this year, was also at a loss for words. “Just a very sad day,” he said.
Republicans appeared dejected by the process as well. Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) was speechless. “I'd give you my reaction to about anything,” he said, “but I don't think I want to give you my reaction to this.”
Others were equally as cheerless, if more talkative. Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), chairman of the Ways and Means health subpanel, questioned whether Republican members were voting “for fairness or political advantage.”
“Maybe they think they can clean up Gingrich's reputation,” he said.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said a censure “would be unfair for anybody” — but was particularly unmerited for an institution like Rangel.
“On many levels, it's a sad day for everybody — for Mr. Rangel and for the House itself.
Like a number of Democrats, Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) voted for the softer reprimand provision, but also for the censure measure when the reprimand failed. “This is not our preferred route,” he said, “but something had to be done. That just left the [censure].”