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The House issued its harshest penalty short of expulsion to Rep. Charlie Rangel on Thursday night, ending a saga that began more than two years ago when the New York Democrat himself called for an ethics investigation into allegations that he violated House rules.
The House voted 333-79 to censure Rangel, marking the first time in nearly 30 years that a Member has been publicly rebuked on the House floor.
The censure itself was brief — Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) read a single paragraph announcing the censure and ordering Rangel to pay back taxes after summoning him to the well of the House to receive the punishment.
Rangel then spoke for a minute, saying it was “painful” to accept the vote, and attributed some of it to politics. He said that in his heart, he knew he was “not going to be judged by this Congress,” but by the work he’s done over his life.
He ended with a defiant reference to the title of his autobiography, about his near-death experience during the Korean War.
“Compared to where I’ve been, I haven’t had a bad day since,” he said. Rangel’s remarks were greeted by a standing ovation from Democrats in the chamber, though not Pelosi.
The senior Democratic lawmaker campaigned in recent days to urge the House to reduce his punishment to a reprimand, which would still have required a House vote but would have avoided a public lecture. But the House defeated that measure Thursday by a 146-257 vote.
“I think history would show that a different standard has been used in this case,” Rangel said at a news conference following his censure.
While Rangel acknowledged his wrongdoing, he argued that a censure was too severe a penalty because the committee had not deemed his actions corrupt and he had not sought to personally enrich himself.
“I leave here knowing that everyone knows I’m an honest guy,” Rangel said at the news conference.
During an ethics trial in November, Rangel was found to have misused federal resources to solicit donations for a City College of New York center named in his honor, used a rent-stabilized apartment for his campaign office, failed to pay taxes on a villa in the Dominican Republic and filed inaccurate financial disclosure forms.
The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct voted Nov. 18 to recommend censure, citing Rangel’s status as the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee at the time of his transgressions, as well as the “cumulative” nature of the offenses.
Ethics Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren reiterated the ethics committee’s decision Thursday, while acknowledging Rangel’s military service and long Congressional career.