The censure of Rep. Charlie Rangel this week opened up raw wounds within the Democratic Caucus, with members of the Congressional Black Caucus and others angry that fellow Democrats, including several key lieutenants to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), blocked an effort to give him a lesser punishment.
The CBC had been whipping hard on a motion by Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) to amend the censure resolution to a reprimand for the New York Democrat, and the effort had gained some momentum, particularly when Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) crossed party lines and made an impassioned plea on Rangel's behalf.
Early voting on the measure was nearly even before several top Pelosi lieutenants started to come out against a reprimand, including Democratic Reps. George Miller (Calif.), Anna Eshoo (Calif.) and Steve Israel (N.Y.), Pelosi's pick to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The final vote wasn't close, and about half of the supporters of the reprimand amendment ultimately voted for censure.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), the incoming chairman of the CBC, said people are talking about how Pelosi lieutenants, and Israel in particular, voted. "His vote did not go unnoticed," Cleaver said Friday. "The votes of Mr. Israel and others were not ignored by a number of Members who brought it to my attention on the floor."
There already is "lingering anger for years past, when the DCCC ignored or at best takes CBC members for granted," he said. "After I am sworn in, I intend to sit down with Mr. Israel" and see how they can improve the relationship between the DCCC and the CBC.
Cleaver said the CBC would likely issue a formal statement next week about the vote, and he reiterated that he thought Rangel was treated unfairly.
"I think most of us who really looked at all of the evidence of punishments meted out to others, we came to the conclusion that Charlie Rangel was put through an ordeal and not given a fair deal," he said. "Barney Frank came up to me and said that what he had done was far worse than what Charlie did and he wasn't censured."
Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, was reprimanded in 1990 over ethical violations related to his relationship with a male prostitute. An effort to censure him by then-Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) fell short.
Cleaver said he agreed with Rangel's contention that political considerations were part of the reason for the votes against him, and Cleaver said that focus on politics is the kind of thing that keeps Congress from solving problems.
Two senior Democratic aides, meanwhile, said the votes of the Speaker's top lieutenants helped doom the reprimand effort and exacerbated a rift between her and a key part of Pelosi's liberal base of support.
"The negativity was palpable yesterday," one aide said. "I've never felt that before."
And while Pelosi did not vote or work votes — she passed the time staring up at the tote board — aides said that Members took cues based on how her lieutenants voted.
"The reality is the Caucus members know who the Speaker's inner circle is, and when the Speaker's lieutenants are voting early and against a reprimand, they are sending a message on behalf of Pelosi," the aide said.
There have long been suspicions among CBC members and others that Pelosi didn't want to help Rangel. The votes of her lieutenants "confirmed what I think a lot of members had been feeling," the aide said.
Israel's vote was especially damaging because it undercut the cover King had given to New York Democrats to vote for a reprimand.
Israel's loyalty to Pelosi is well-known. "People aren't blind to why he was picked," the aide said, arguing that his loyalty to Pelosi trumped other Members' superior fundraising skills during the selection process for DCCC chairman.
The other aide said the party has been coming apart since the November midterms, and the Rangel censure vote didn't help. "The Caucus has suffered a lot of damage over the last few weeks. At some point, we have to start bringing people together," the aide said.