Two more House Dems demand Rangel step down as panel head

Two politically vulnerable Democrats on Monday called for Rep. Charles Rangel to step down as Ways and Means Committee chairman.

Reps. Betty Sutton (Ohio) and Harry Mitchell (Ariz.) have joined the ranks of Democrats calling for the New York Democrat to relinquish his gavel in the wake of the ethics committee finding that Rangel violated House rules. 

“I think that in order to preserve the public trust, which is of the highest priority, Rep. Rangel should, at this point, step aside as chair of the Ways and Means Committee,” Sutton said in a statement to The Hill. “Our nation is facing many challenges and we must put all our energy, without distraction or question, into meeting those challenges.” 

Mitchell has notified Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of his concerns on the matter, his spokesman told The Hill on Monday. Mitchell defeated former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) in 2006 after Hayworth took a beating in the press for his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. 

There are now seven Democrats who have publicly called and/or voted to have Rangel give up his chairmanship: Reps. Bobby Bright (Ala.), Travis Childers (Miss.), Paul Hodes (N.H.), Mitchell, Mike Quigley (Ill.), Sutton and Gene Taylor (Miss.).

Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) is giving money Rangel donated to his campaign to charity while Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) is returning funds to the 79-year-old chairman.

In a release, Kirkpatrick said, “The bipartisan ethics committee has found that Congressman Rangel did not live up to the standards Members owe to their constituents with this matter and continues to look into other serious breaches. While I deeply respect his lifetime of service as a soldier and as a U.S. representative, I can no longer accept his support.”

According to CQ Money Line, other Democrats who have received funds from Rangel this cycle include Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Reps. Dina Titus (Nev.), Eric Massa (N.Y.), Dan Maffei (N.Y.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Debbie Halvorson (Ill.) and Mike McMahon (N.Y.).

Last October, House Republicans forced a floor vote calling for Rangel to lose his committee post. Taylor and Childers were the only Democrats to vote with the GOP.

Republicans are poised to seek another vote this week, and Democratic defections could reach double digits.

The Hill on Monday contacted dozens of House Democrats in competitive reelection races. Most did not comment for this article and none of them said they support Rangel. Asked whether Rangel should step down, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) late last week responded, “No comment.”

In a sign of Rangel’s weakened position, Quigley voted to retain Rangel as chairman in February of last year, voted “present” in October and is expected to vote with the GOP this week. Quigley, who replaced Rahm Emanuel, is expected to easily win his reelection race this fall.

Pelosi is under increasing pressure to take action against Rangel in a year when the political climate looks bleak for Democrats. 

During an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Pelosi said Rangel didn’t “knowingly violate House rules,” adding, “So that gives him some comfort.”

She also said the ethics admonishment was “not good.”

The ethics committee found that Rangel violated House gift rules when he accepted reimbursement for two trips to the Caribbean that were sponsored by corporations. House ethics rules Democrats passed in 2007 after they won the majority bar corporations that employ lobbyists from sponsoring travel that lasts more than one day.

Rangel has blamed his staff, claiming he was unaware of the corporate sponsors.

The panel is still scrutinizing other more serious allegations against Rangel involving charges that he improperly used his office to raise money for an academic center at City College of New York that is named after him and failed to pay taxes on rental income from a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic, among others.

Asked Friday whether the ethics committee action against Rangel was taking a political toll, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said only that he wants the ethics committee to finish its work on Rangel “expeditiously.” 

“The report speaks for itself,” Van Hollen said. “The ethics committee needs to move expeditiously to render a judgment.” 

Asking Rangel to step down from his chairmanship would be “disproportionate to the bipartisan recommendation” from the panel, Van Hollen said. 

It remains unclear when the ethics panel will release its other findings on Rangel, leaving him and vulnerable Democrats in a difficult position. 

In an interview on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program, Pelosi ally Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) indicated that it would be better politically for Democrats if Rangel stepped aside. The ethics panel admonishment, Miller said, will make Rangel’s job more difficult. 
However, Miller said Rangel deserves to have the ethics panel complete its work.

The watchdog Common Cause scoffed at Rangel’s assertions that it is unfair for the ethics committee to hold him responsible for what his staff knew. 

“That is unbelievable. Rep. Rangel has been in Congress long enough to know how the process works, and at the end of the day, members of Congress are responsible for their own actions,” the watchdog said in a statement released Monday. 

Rangel’s office did not comment for this article.

Last fall, six Republicans voted with Democrats on the Rangel motion: Reps. Walter Jones (N.C.), Pete King (N.Y.), Tim Murphy (Pa.), Ron Paul (Texas), Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.) and Don Young (Alaska).

In an e-mail to The Hill, King said, ”I will wait until those [ethics] rulings are made in those cases. I don’t want to prejudge.”

The other four Republicans did not comment.

Rohrabacher is now "reassessing" his stance on Rangel's position, given the most recent ethics ruling.

According to his spokeswoman, Tara Setmayer, the California lawmaker is "deciding whether ... it's egregious enough to warrant losing his chairmanship."

Jennifer Swift, John Owre and Molly K. Hooper contributed to this report.