House Republicans are renewing their drive to force embattled Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) to surrender his gavel in the wake of his ethics wrist slap last week. And with politically vulnerable Democrats starting to peel off and join the call, top party strategists are wondering how long the Harlem Democrat can maintain his perch atop the tax-writing panel.
Democratic leaders will get their first look at the erosion of Rangels support as early as Wednesday, when Members are expected to vote on a privileged resolution by Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) calling on him to step aside as Ways and Means chairman until the ethics committee completes separate probes into his personal finances.
While leaders are not whipping the vote, senior aides are canvassing the Caucus to get a sense of how many Democrats will bolt. The count remains fluid, but Rangel allies are bracing for losses well into the double-digits.
I wouldnt be surprised if you had 25 to 30 Democrats who switched, one aide said.
For now, Rangel is assured of the support of the one House Democrat who ultimately controls his fate: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). In a Sunday interview with ABCs This Week, Pelosi made clear she is backing the veteran lawmaker at least until the ethics committee finishes its inquiry. But she also acknowledged that what Mr. Rangel has been admonished for is not good.
And her most trusted lieutenant in the chamber, Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.), said Friday that leaders need to weigh whether Rangel can continue to lead his panel effectively.
But Democratic leaders appear intent on keeping Rangel in place at least until the ethics panel, formally known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, wraps up its inquiry into his personal finances as well as his fundraising efforts for a City College of New York center that bears his name. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who was asked Monday if the Democratic Caucus would continue to support Rangel keeping his chairmanship, had a wait-and-see attitude.
I think the ethics committee still has a lot of work to do and theyre not completed on that particular issue, so I think theres still we need to see what happens, Hoyer said.
Top Democratic strategists said an additional rebuke would likely spell doom for Rangels chairmanship. The problem is this was the least serious of the issues. Assuming ethics does more on the others, hes gone, one said.
Rangels best defense at this point may be the abiding goodwill of his colleagues, many of whom view the 20-term Member as an institution in the chamber. Carter, the House Republican Conference secretary, began his campaign to force Rangel from his post in February 2009, and his first resolution received no Democratic support. On Carters second try last October, just two Democrats, Mississippi Reps. Travis Childers and Gene Taylor, came aboard.
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