Dems back Rangel; GOP tries to oust powerful Ways and Means chairman

In a mostly party-line vote of 243-156, with 19 members voting “present,” Democrats successfully passed a procedural motion referring the matter to the House ethics committee — a move that effectively sank a GOP effort to remove Rangel from the influential tax-writing panel until the ethics committee finishes its investigation into multiple allegations against him.

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This was the third time Republicans introduced a resolution to force Rangel from the panel but the first time any Democrats voted with the GOP to remove him. Republicans touted the support of centrist Blue Dog Reps. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) and Travis Childers (D-Miss.) as a sign that Rangel’s support in the caucus has diminished — if only slightly.

Republicans also introduced a resolution in late July of last year that would have censured Rangel, but no Democrats voted with Republicans on that effort, and it failed in a lopsided partisan vote.

“These votes show that support for the Democratic leaders’ decision to sweep this matter under the rug is starting to crack,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Six Republicans, however, sided with Rangel and voted with the Democratic majority, including Reps. Pete King (N.Y.), Walter Jones (N.C.), Tim Murphy (Pa.), Ron Paul (Texas) and Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.).

The 19 members who voted present mostly consisted of members of the ethics committee or lawmakers already impaneled on the investigative subcommittee that is looking into the allegations.

The Democratic parliamentary maneuver killed any debate on the Republican measure, but Republicans said they were privately buoyed by forcing the Democrats to defend one of their most embattled members. Editorials in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and several other newspapers across the country have called on the veteran New York politician to give up the gavel — at least while the ethics committee is still deliberating.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, brushed aside any notion that Rangel will prove to be a campaign liability next year.

“We need to allow the ethics process to work,” Van Hollen said, although he noted the committee should wrap up the investigation as “expeditiously as possible.”

Republican Conference Secretary John Carter (Texas) introduced the resolution that would have forced Rangel to give up the gavel.

Carter, a former judge, said the lack of any action by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or the Democratic Caucus forced the GOP to call on Rangel to relinquish the chairmanship of the House committee that oversees the IRS and the tax code.

Rangel initiated the ethics committee investigation when allegations first surfaced last summer that he failed to report $75,000 worth of rental income on a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic. Since then, several others accusations have surfaced and the ethics panel has twice expanded its investigation.

Among other charges, the panel is looking into whether Rangel improperly used his congressional letterhead to solicit donations for a City College of New York (CCNY) education center bearing his name, which would violate House rules, and whether he broke House rules against improper gifts by accepting an interest-free loan on the villa. During the August recess, Rangel amended his financial disclosure forms to show at least $600,000 in income previously unreported.

The New York Post on Wednesday reported that Rangel had secured a $3 million earmark in the defense appropriations bill for another CCNY department.

While the ethics committee has delayed any final action, Pelosi has continued to support Rangel’s retaining the gavel.

On Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also said the ethics committee should be allowed to do its work without hindrance.

“We will wait for its report,” he told reporters before the vote on the resolution. “To do anything else would be premature. I, or someone, will move to table the resolution.”

As Ways and Means Committee chairman, Rangel, a 37-year veteran of the House known for his jolly approach and easy camaraderie with colleagues and the press, remains at the center of negotiations on the most high-priority bills.

After the vote on the resolution to remove him from the panel, Rangel and the Ways and Means Committee huddled with Pelosi to discuss the tax elements of the healthcare bill. Afterward, Rangel met alone with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

Last week, a Rangel spokesman labeled the GOP effort a “partisan stunt” and argued that the ethics committee should be allowed to work its will and finish its investigation.

“This is nothing more than a partisan stunt to distract from the GOP’s lack of ideas to improve America’s healthcare system and help our economy recover,” the spokesman said.

Rep. Gregory Meeks, a fellow member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the New York Democratic delegation, called the GOP resolution a “cheap political trick that is not going to work.”

One longstanding Republican on the Ways and Means Committee remembered the Democrats bringing up privileged resolutions against Republicans when they held the majority and said the turnabout was fair play.

Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.), a friend and close ally to former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) when he served in the House, recalled Pelosi’s determination to force Gingrich to pay $1 million in restitution to the ethics committee for a scandal involving Gingrich’s claiming of tax-exempt status for a college course.

Gingrich denied any wrongdoing, but admitted to providing inaccurate statements during the probe over the college course and agreed to pay $300,000 for the cost of the investigation.