Rangel downplays toll of his battles

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) attracted a crowd of reporters Wednesday after having a one-on-one talk with the House chaplain off the chamber floor.

But the jovial 37-year veteran of the House dispelled any notion that the chaplain was counseling him in the Speaker’s Lobby about stress he may be feeling from allegations of ethics violations.

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On the contrary, Rangel said the chaplain had come to him with a problem he needed help with, not the other way around.

Rangel also downplayed news that Vince Morgan, his one-time aide and campaign manager, is challenging him in the Democratic primary, although he called “any challenge serious.”

“It’s something I really haven’t had time to think about,” he said. “I saw Vince a couple of weeks ago and he didn’t mention this.”

When asked whether Morgan was taking advantage of Rangel’s embattled ethics state to launch a challenge, Rangel wouldn’t bite.

“No, if he’s preparing this for a long time [as he has said in newspaper reports], then he’s doing it for the right reasons,” he said.

Rangel’s recent weight loss has left some supporters worried about the toll the ethics scandal has taken on his health, but Rangel said all the worry about him was merely envy over his ability to shed the extra pounds. Two days ago Rangel said he went to his doctor and told him that the pain he had in his right leg had gone away recently. His doctor explained that weight loss sometimes has immediate added benefits such as relieving stress the weight had been placing on the body.

“I’ve been fighting weight for a long time,” Rangel said, explaining that he had been following a Pritikin diet, a low-fat, mainly vegetarian plan shown to reverse heart disease, control diabetes and reduce hypertension.

While he admitted that he is not a strict follower of the Pritikin plan, he said it has shown him how to balance his food choices.

“I don’t even feel like eating fast food,” he said, adding that his busy Ways and Means Committee schedule has kept him from eating out at his favorite restaurants in recent weeks.

He then quickly turned to talking up President Barack Obama’s plan to give $250 payments to more than 50 million seniors to make up for no increase in Social Security next year.

Rangel predicted the president’s proposal would sail through Congress quickly. “No one is going to oppose it,” he said with a grin.

In January, The Hill reported that Rangel had spent time over the holidays at the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa in Aventura, Fla.

When asked whether he had lost weight, Rangel smiled broadly and pulled at the material of his suit jacket to show the extra room and reveal his Pritikin secret.

After the New York Post ran an unflattering photo of him back in August that showed Rangel sleeping in a lounge chair in shorts and a T-shirt on the beach in front of his Dominican Republic villa, Rangel said his wife, Alama, urged him to shed some pounds.