Rep. Charlie Rangel makes his way to a news conference after the House voted Thursday to censure the New York Democrat.
“Nothing we say or do here today will in any way diminish his service to our country ... but that service does not excuse the fact that Rep. Rangel violated laws, he violated regulations, he violated the rules of this House, he violated standards of conduct,” the California Democrat said.
But Members from each faction of the Democratic Caucus, as well as Republican Rep. Peter King (N.Y.), took to the House floor to argue against the proposed penalty, urging the chamber to reprimand Rangel instead.
“Why are we departing so significantly from tradition and precedent in the case of Charlie Rangel?” an emotional King said.
“Censure is an extremely severe penalty,” he said. “If expulsion is the equivalent of the death penalty, then censure is life in prison.”
The New York Republican, who was met with a smattering of applause from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, spoke during the 30 minutes Rangel received to debate the proposed punishment. King voted in favor of the reprimand and against censure.
Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), the ethics committee’s ranking Republican, said he had rejected numerous requests from his GOP colleagues to speak on the floor Thursday, granting time only to himself and Reps. Michael McCaul (Texas) and Doc Hastings (Wash.), who were the Republican leaders on the subcommittee panels that had decided Rangel’s case.
“This recommendation of censure was not made lightly, and it was not made without respect for the totality of his life,” Bonner said, who called the resolution “a sad day.”
Rep. Bobby Scott, who served on the investigative subcommittee that spent two years reviewing the allegations against Rangel, offered the most extensive remarks on Rangel’s behalf, arguing that House precedents made censure against Rangel “singularly harsh and unfair.”
“He knows he messed up. He knows he’ll be punished. We just ask he be punished like everybody else,” the Virginia Democrat said.
But Scott’s arguments — which recalled punishments involving former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) — failed to gain traction with House lawmakers, who rejected an amendment that would have reduced Rangel’s punishment to a reprimand.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), who serves on the ethics committee, sponsored that measure, which failed on a 146-267 vote, despite the support of four members of the Democratic leadership, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.), Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) and Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.), as well as former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.). Pelosi did not vote on the measure.
Following his censure, Rangel smiled and hugged several well-wishers who lined an aisle in the House chamber.
As he turned up the aisle toward the back of the room, Rangel passed Hoyer, who sat talking with Waxman and an aide. Rangel reached out and touched Hoyer, who stood and clasped Rangel’s arms. They parted after speaking for a few moments, and Hoyer sat down heavily in his seat.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.