By Susan Crabtree - 10/08/09 03:38 PM EDT
The Congressional Black Caucus flexed its political muscle by sending a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) defending Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) from partisan attacks.
The letter, dated Oct. 7, was sent the same day Democrats beat back a GOP attempt to force Rangel, a founding member of the CBC, to resign as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee because of a string of ethics allegations against him involving a series of financial violations on his taxes and required congressional disclosure forms, among other accusations.
“As members of the Congressional Black Caucus, we support our colleague, Charlie Rangel, Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, and condemn partisan attempts to ignore the well-established, bipartisan ethics process,” they wrote.
The letter was designed to demonstrate the sheer magnitude of Rangel’s support among one of the most powerful Democratic factions in the House.
The CBC also argued that the GOP attempts to oust Rangel from Ways and Means would discourage members in the future from calling for the ethics committee to look into any public accusations of misconduct against them.
“These Republican attempts to presume guilt before an investigation has been completed violate the core American principle of the presumption of innocence,” they wrote. “These attempts also will discourage Members in the future from self-reporting any potential ethics issues, and will distract from the important work of the House to fix the economy, put Americans back to work, and improve access to health care.
“Charlie Rangel’s work on these issues is critically important, and we are proud of the thoughtful leadership he provides to the House,” they added. “He has our full support for his work as Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means while a bipartisan ethics review is pending.”
The CBC said members should allow the ethics committee to continue its work without action against Rangel, especially considering that Rangel initiated the investigation last summer after the first news report appeared that he failed to pay taxes on $75,000 worth of rental income on a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic. Since that time, a string of other allegations has surfaced, the latest involving his failure to report at least $600,000 in assets on his financial disclosure forms until August, when he amended them.
“As you know, Chairman Rangel has been subjected to repeated attacks based on allegations that he committed errors in complex financial disclosure and tax filings,” the CBC members told Pelosi. “Out of respect for the integrity of the House, Chairman Rangel himself asked the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to conduct a thorough investigation of any possible errors, and he has demonstrated his cooperation with such an investigation by hiring on his own initiative an accountant to thoroughly review all his records and file corrections when necessary.”
The Committee on Standards is currently conducting its review, and will present its findings to the House when its review is completed,” they continued “This is as it should be.”
Republicans argue that members should not to be held to a different standard than average citizens when it comes to accounting for all of their income on their tax returns. Rangel has already admitted to some of the tax violations and financial disclosure omissions – and that alone should force him from the tax-writing committee, they argue.
“It is entirely appropriate for Chairman Rangel to step aside until the Ethics Committee completes its work, given the staggering array of serious charges against him,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). “Two brave members of the Democratic caucus agreed yesterday by voting with Republicans. Sooner or later, either Chairman Rangel will do the right thing, or the Speaker will have to.”
Democratic Reps. Gene Taylor and Travis Childers, both from Mississippi, voted with Republicans Wednesday.
Pelosi has continued to stand by Rangel making the same argument, that the committee should be allowed to complete its investigation before any steps are taken to punish him.
A spokesman reiterated that position Thursday when asked about the CBC letter.
"There is a bipartisan, independent Ethics Committee process and we are confident the Committee will conduct a thorough review and then report to the full House,” said Nadeam Elshami.
But Pelosi has faced increasing pressure to take action as each new allegation has surfaced. She initially predicted that the committee would wrap up its work by the end of last year. Instead, the panel, which traditionally operates in secret, has twice expanded the investigation to include new allegations and has continued the probe for nearly a year and a half without any determination.