U.S. House Censures Rangel Over Ethics Violations

Representative Charles Rangel
Representative Charles Rangel, a Democrat from New York. Photographer: Kevin Dietsch/Pool via Bloomberg

The U.S. House censured Democratic Representative Charles Rangel of New York for ethics violations, including soliciting donations for an academic center bearing his name and failing to fully pay his income taxes.

The vote was 333-79. Under the censure, Rangel stood on the House floor as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, read the resolution outlining his violations.

A censure is a blemish on Rangel’s 40-year record in the House, though it won’t keep him from continuing to serve. He was re-elected Nov. 2 to a 21st term, winning 80 percent of the vote in his Harlem-based district.

After Pelosi read the censure, Rangel told the chamber that “even though it’s painful to accept the vote,” he is satisfied he had proven that “at no time did it enter my mind to enrich myself.”

“I know in my heart I am not going to be judged by this Congress, but I am going to be judged by my life, my activities, my contributions,” he said in a brief floor speech. “Compared to where I’ve been,” he said, referring to his injuries in battle during the Korean War, “I haven’t had a bad day since,”

Rangel, 80, is the first House member censured since 1983, when the sanction was applied to Representatives Gerry Studds, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Daniel Crane, an Illinois Republican, for sexual misconduct with House pages.

‘Serious Mistakes’

In comments to his colleagues before the censure vote today, Rangel apologized for putting the House in an “awkward position.” He said that he had made mistakes and deserved to be sanctioned, though he believed that censure was too harsh.

“I have made serious mistakes,” Rangel said. “I brought it on myself. But I still believe this body has to be guided by fairness.”

Ethics committee chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, praised Rangel’s four decades of service in the House and his military service in Korea.

“Nothing will diminish his service to our country,” Lofgren said on the House floor. “But that service does not change the fact that Representative Rangel violated laws.”

The ethics committee -- formally known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct -- voted Nov. 18 to recommend that Rangel be censured and directed him to pay back taxes on rental income from his villa in the Dominican Republic.

11 Violations

An ethics subcommittee found that Rangel committed 11 violations of House rules by using congressional stationery and staff to seek donations for an academic center named for him at City College of New York, by filing erroneous financial-disclosure statements, failing to pay taxes for 17 years on rental income, and by using a rent-controlled apartment as a campaign office.

The violations were committed “on a continuous and prolonged basis” and warranted “a strong congressional response rebuking his behavior,” the full committee said in a report to the House on Nov. 30.

Some lawmakers urged the lesser penalty of a reprimand for their colleague, arguing that censuring him was unprecedented.

“If expulsion is the equivalent of the death penalty, censure is life imprisonment,” said Representative Peter King, a New York Republican. “Why today are we being asked to reverse 200 years of tradition?”

“Censure is not an appropriate sanction in this case,” said Representative Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat.

A motion to reprimand Rangel failed, 267-146.

At a news conference following the vote, Rangel said that members were concerned about the response from their constituents if they voted for a lesser penalty.

“We do know this is a political body,” he said. “I am satisfied members voted their districts.”

Public Trust

A member of the ethics committee said censure was the proper punishment.

“Public office is a public trust,” said Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican. “Mr. Rangel violated that trust.”

During the ethics committee proceedings last month, Rangel argued that he did “nothing corrupt” and didn’t profit from his actions. He gave up the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee in March after the ethics panel said he had broken House rules by accepting corporate-sponsored travel.

Rangel boycotted the subcommittee hearing on his case after it denied his request for a postponement because he lacked a lawyer. He said he needed time to set up a legal defense fund and raise money to pay an attorney. Rangel said he has spent about $2 million on legal fees before the hearing and couldn’t afford to pay more now.

Rangel won his House seat in 1970 after he defeated Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr. in that year’s Democratic primary. Powell, first elected in 1944, was expelled from the House in 1967 for reasons that included misuse of chamber funds. He won a special election later that year and ultimately was re-seated.

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