By Molly K. Hooper - 07/27/10 12:56 AM EDT
House Republican leaders intend to keep their powder dry as the public ethics trial of embattled Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) unfolds.
Throughout the 111th Congress, House GOP lawmakers have offered measures targeting Rangel. But don’t expect one this week.
According to several leadership sources, top-ranking Republicans hope that the former Ways and Means Committee chairman fights charges of ethical wrongdoing.
“We want him fighting this tooth and nail. The more defiant he is, the better it is for us,” a GOP leadership aide told The Hill on Monday.
Another Republican leadership aide noted that Republicans can only sit back and watch as the “spectacle” unfolds on Thursday, when the ethics committee will detail its charges against Rangel.
House GOP conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) on Monday discouraged his colleagues from introducing resolutions on the floor while the ethics committee works its will.
“I was heartened to see the ethics committee move forward with this investigation. Now that the ethics committee has assumed its responsibility, it is important that we tone down the politics and let the ethics committee do its job,” Pence told reporters Monday.
A Democratic leadership aide said, “Congressional Republicans are actually watching an ethics committee that is working and reminiscing about the days when they controlled Congress, where they swept it all under the rug and presided over a broken ethics system. As much as they try, the GOP leadership can’t wash off the stench of [Jack] Abramoff and the criminal syndicate that was writing bills and controlling Republican members.”
Many other Democratic aides declined to comment Monday on the Rangel controversy. Similarly, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs dodged questions about it at his daily briefing.
At press time on Monday evening, Rangel was seen on the House floor engaged conversations with various Democratic leaders, including Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (S.C.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.).
Clyburn was seen shuttling between conversations with ethics committee chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Rangel.
At one point, Clyburn and Lofgren disappeared into a room off the House floor, and later Clyburn conferred with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Van Hollen told reporters that he shared his own "observations" of the situation with Rangel, but would not divulge the details of his discussion.
Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio), a politically vulnerable two-term lawmaker, told The Hill on Friday that she believes Rangel should resign. But Republican leaders, at least for now, are not going that far.
Should the ethics charges stand up, it’s likely that the GOP will pursue another motion calling for the expulsion or resignation of Rangel when members return from the August recess. That timetable would allow the matter to attract headlines for weeks, if not months. It would also highlight the issue when campaigns kick into high gear after Labor Day.
Some believe Rangel will strike a deal with the ethics panel and avoid what could be a media circus. However, any admission of wrongdoing by the Harlem legislator would help the GOP’s effort to offer a resignation motion and force Democrats to go on the record about the politically sensitive issue.
Rangel is facing a competitive primary on Sept. 14, and Republicans are privately rooting for the 20-term incumbent to win another term. Should he lose and/or resign, the GOP political barbs aimed at Democrats will lose their effectiveness.
Despite being in the minority, House Republicans have flexed their muscle effectively on Rangel this year. As the GOP was about to bring a measure calling for Rangel to give up his chairmanship in early March, the New York Democrat reluctantly gave up his gavel under pressure from leadership officials.
Until that point, enough Democrats voted to keep the gavel in Rangel’s hand on two prior motions crafted by Rep. John Carter (R-Texas).
Carter told The Hill Monday evening that he has no intention of filing any privileged resolutions against Rangel at this time.
The former judge said that he plans to let “nature take its course,” but he left open the possibility of pursuing a resolution in the future.
With fewer than 100 days before the general midterm election, Republicans believe they will benefit politically from a lengthy trial, especially in the wake of Pelosi’s 2006 promise to “drain the swamp” of corruption in the lower chamber.
National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) aides explained their strategy of pressing Democrats who took money from the prolific fundraiser to return funds to Rangel in light of the ethics lapses.
According to an NRCC breakdown, at least 37 House Democrats have returned money to Rangel or donated “tainted” dollars to charity.