Party turns screws on Rangel

Time is running out for Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) to decide whether to make a deal or go ahead with a public ethics trial that could hurt his party.

Rangel came under growing pressure on Tuesday to agree to a settlement with the House ethics panel before Thursday’s scheduled organizational meeting, where the ethics panel will air charges against the veteran lawmaker.

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Tension caused by the ongoing controversy was evident as lawmakers returned for a final week of work.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said he thinks Rangel should settle to avoid a trial. Asked why, Miller grew agitated. “Because I said so — that’s why,” he said.

Earlier this year Miller suggested publicly that Rangel should give up his Ways and Means Committee chairmanship.

“Mr. Rangel has to do what Mr. Rangel believes is appropriate and proper,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). said Tuesday at his weekly press briefing.

Rangel on Tuesday told reporters he expects an organizational meeting for the trial will go forward as scheduled on Thursday. The ethics panel is scheduled to spell out its charges against the New York Democrat during the meeting.

“I hope that justice, fair play and equity prevails,” Rangel said in response to a question about whether he expected a settlement.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Rangel’s attorney is in discussions with nonpartisan staff on the ethics panel about a settlement.

But Rangel, asked whether he thought his ethics hearing would go forward, replied: “Yes.”

“Compared to being lynched, I would rather go through Thursday,” Rangel said.

Asked if his ethics problems are hurting politically vulnerable Democrats, Rangel responded, “That’s a political question and I’ve been so absorbed with my own problems, I haven’t given it much thought.”

He scolded a reporter when pressed if he was close to reaching a deal.

“I wish you wouldn't say ‘deal,’” he said. “People are trying to avoid the spectacle of a hearing -- and that makes sense.”

Several lawmakers on Tuesday said the decision is up to Rangel, but some stressed that he should consider how he wants to be remembered.

“The question Charlie Rangel has to ask himself is what he wants his legacy and the last memory he imparts to be,” said Rep. Artur Davis (Ala.), one of the first Democrats to call on Rangel to relinquish his gavel as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee because of the charges against him.

“He has a very hard decision to make, but it is his decision,” Davis said.

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) on Tuesday said he believed Rangel should step aside, but that if Rangel wanted a public trial, that was his option.

“I believe he should, but it’s his call at this point,” said Quigley, who took over the seat previously held by Rahm Emanuel. “As an old criminal defense attorney, if he wants a public trial, there should be one,” Quigley said.

“You know I’m from Illinois and it’s the closing arguments in a big case there,” Quigley said, referring to the trial of former Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

“Stupidity wears both hats – it’s not a partisan thing.”

Two members of Rangel’s caucus have called on him to resign from the House.

“Now that the investigation is complete and provided the facts are as alleged, I think it’s clear that he should resign from Congress,” Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) said in an interview with the Idaho Reporter.

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Minnick, who represents one of the country’s most conservative congressional districts, is seen as vulnerable in 2010. He followed Rep. Betty Sutton (Ohio), who on Friday became the first Democratic member to call on Rangel to step down.

However, unlike Sutton, Minnick’s statement included caveats.

Rangel has drawn support from the Congressional Black Caucus, which this week said that Rangel was fully entitled to his day in court and cautioned against  prejudging the outcome of a process that has not concluded.

Hoyer stressed the ethics process is working and cited as an example the Rangel charges themselves.

“We’ve made it much more visible; there’s much more reporting going on,” Hoyer said. “And I’ll remind you all that what the ethics committee is doing is exactly what Mr. Rangel requested.” Rangel asked the committee to investigate allegations against him.

Still, Hoyer acknowledged the Rangel controversy is a distraction to members already worried about the fall.

“I think everybody would like it to go away,” Hoyer said with a chuckle, “in the sense that this isn’t a pleasant process. But it’s an important process.”

Molly K. Hooper contributed to this story.