Representative Charles Rangel of New York, the first lawmaker censured by the U.S. House in 27 years, said members rejected a lesser punishment out of concern that they could be hurt in their districts.
“We do know this is a political body,” Rangel, a Democrat, said at a news conference yesterday after the House voted, 333-79, to approve a resolution of censure. “I am at rest with myself. I am convinced, when history has been written, people would recognize that to vote for censure was a very, very, very political vote.”
Rangel, 80, was convicted of 11 violations of House rules. He 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.
Following a two-year investigation, the House ethics committee voted 9-1 on Nov. 18 to recommend that Rangel be censured. It also called on him to pay back taxes on rental income from his villa in the Dominican Republic.
“Public office is a public trust,” said committee member Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican. “Mr. Rangel violated that trust.”
Rangel said at the news conference that he had been willing to accept a less severe penalty. A subcommittee of the ethics panel had recommended a reprimand, a lesser form of punishment, rather than a censure. Rangel said he had signed off on an agreement, though it never was approved by the ethics committee, formally known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.
Several lawmakers, including ethics committee member G.K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat, urged the House to approve a reprimand instead, saying that the chamber didn’t censure other lawmakers who committed similar violations.
“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?”
The House rejected Butterfield’s motion to move ahead with a reprimand rather than a censure, with 146 supporting the motion and 267 voting against it.
While a censure is a blemish on Rangel’s 40-year record in the House, 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.
A subcommittee found that Rangel misused congressional stationery and staff to seek donations for an academic center named for him at City College of New York, filed erroneous financial disclosure statements, failed to pay taxes for 17 years on rental income, and used 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.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, read the resolution of censure as Rangel stood in front of the podium, his hands clasped. When she was done, he said that “even though it’s painful to accept the vote,” he was 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 ‘Violated Laws’
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,” she said on the House floor. “But that service does not change the fact that Representative Rangel violated laws.”
Rangel 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.