Updated: 12:05 p.m.
House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) announced Wednesday that he will surrender his committee gavel while the ethics committee completes its investigation of him.
"In order to avoid my colleagues having to defend me during their elections, I have this morning sent a letter to Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi asking her to grant me a leave of absence until such time as the ethics committee completes its work," Rangel told reporters during a brief morning press conference.
The ethics committee admonished Rangel last week for taking a corporate-funded Caribbean trip, and the committee is still investigating an array of errors the 20-term lawmaker has made in reporting his personal finances.
Pelosi in a statement said she will honor the New York Democrat's request. "I commend Chairman Rangel for his decades of leadership on jobs, health care, and the most significant economic issues of the day," she said.
The developments Wednesday morning capped an awkward series of events. Rangel huddled with Pelosi behind closed doors on the matter Tuesday night. Democratic aides had insisted that the New York Democrat would use the meeting to offer up his gavel, but afterward a defiant Rangel emerged and declared he was still the Ways and Means chairman.
House Democratic leadership met Wednesday morning but hadn't yet settled on a Ways and Means successor. Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) is next in line in seniority, but leadership appears to prefer that the gavel go to third-ranking Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) instead. However, House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.), a member of Ways and Means, said he expects leaders to elevate Stark. Larson cautioned that Stark's promotion would depend on his health, which has been unsteady. "It will all depend on his health," he said.
Despite Rangel's decision, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday morning would not rule out pressing ahead with a Republican resolution designed to force him from his post. The resolution is the third of its kind by Conference Secretary John Carter (R-Texas).
"As I understand the rules of the House, you are either the chairman or you are not," Boehner said. "So until we see those letters and see what the Parliamentarians do, I think I'll withhold judgment. ... There is nothing in the rules of the House that refers to temporarily stepping down."
Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.