GOP Hunt for Rangel on Hold

Posted December 16, 2009 at 6:42pm

The House Republican assault on Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) has gone dormant for the past two months while other issues such as job creation, the economy, national security and health care have taken center stage on the House floor.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who has been a regular critic of Rangel, said: “We don’t have the votes to remove Rangel. … We kind of make the point and if there’s nothing new, you can’t make the point again.—

But Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), who has led the charge to remove Rangel from his chairmanship, promised, “We are not through yet.—

It wasn’t long ago that some GOP lawmakers could scarcely give a floor speech without reciting accusations of ethical issues against Rangel.

House Republicans have focused attacks on Rangel all year long, with Carter, the secretary of the House Republican Conference, introducing a privileged resolution in February that called for Rangel to give up his gavel pending an ethics committee investigation of his financial disclosures, tax issues and other concerns.

Rangel has acknowledged a variety of errors in his annual disclosures and has admitted that he failed to pay taxes on a rental property in the Dominican Republic, but he has repeatedly denied any intent to mislead or break the rules. Rangel asked the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to open an investigation into several claims against him, which has now dragged on for more than a year and expanded to cover other allegations against him.

Despite the open ethics investigation, the Republican assault on Rangel continued throughout the year and intensified during the summer as Republicans continued to call loudly for his resignation.

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) wrote a letter to Rangel in early September asking that he relinquish his gavel to show his respect for his leadership’s “obligation to help set the pace when it comes to standards of official conduct.—

And in October, Carter brought up a second privileged resolution, again calling for Rangel to step down from his post until the ethics committee had completed its work. But as October turned to November, the intense drumbeat suddenly stopped.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said Rangel’s ethics problems have not changed, but the focus of the House Republican Conference has for the time being.

“Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi has a responsibility to force Chairman Rangel to step aside, given the staggering array of ethics issues he is facing — that hasn’t changed,— Steel said. “But our top priority is the same as the American people’s — jobs.—

Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said he knows only that the ethics committee is continuing its investigation.

“I don’t have knowledge more than what I read,— Cantor said.

Cantor declined to comment on why the floor efforts to call attention to Rangel had stalled.

Doug Thornell, a spokesman for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), agreed that the hectic schedule had left little time for Republican mischief.

“The fact is we have had a very busy schedule dealing with important issues like health care, jobs, small businesses and Wall Street reform,— he said. “Maybe Republicans woke up and realized how small and petty their agenda looked compared to ours.—

Issa suggested that at this point, Rangel’s image is so damaged that most of his colleagues believe it is only a matter of time before the voters decide to vote him out of office, which may be dampening the GOP energy for continued attacks.

“What new can we find out about Charlie’s inability to understand tax policy?— Issa said.

Rangel’s office declined to comment.

Thornell suggested that Carter’s failure to properly disclose capital gains from the sale of Exxon Mobil Corp. stock probably contributed to the cease-fire.

“It also really didn’t help their cause that they looked like complete hypocrites when their champion on this had a slew of disclosure problems centered around profits made from Big Oil,— he said.

Roll Call reported in November that Carter failed to report on his financial disclosure reports about $350,000 in profits from the sale of Exxon stock in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Carter acknowledged the errors and amended his disclosure forms.

Carter dismissed the notion that mistakes on his House disclosure forms had deterred him in any way from pursuing Rangel, adding that he has not ruled out future privileged resolutions.

The Texas Republican said his error “was only on my House disclosure form,— noting that unlike Rangel, his capital gains were reported correctly on federal income tax forms. “It was a mistake that has been made by [then-Sen.] Barack Obama and by 52 other Members of Congress the year I made the same mistake.—

Reps. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) and Steve King (R-Iowa) also said they would renew their push to unseat Rangel when Congress reconvenes.

“These kinds of things come in waves,— King said. “You push the issue as long as you can keep some intensity up, and either it’s going to be responded to and they are going to do the right thing or we sit down and all Republicans can do is call for media attention.—

“This isn’t going to go away,— he said.

Westmoreland said the number of issues that have come to the floor in the past two months has been the biggest hurdle to Republican efforts to keep the pressure on Rangel and Democratic leaders.

“We are going to get back on it the first of the year,— he said.

Lisa Gilbert, democracy advocate at U.S. PIRG, said the recent GOP silence on ethics issues “could be because there are a fair number of Republicans who are involved in ethics scandals right now,— such as Sen. John Ensign (Nev.), who is under investigation for an affair he carried on with a staff member. These scandals may be drawing attention away from Democratic ethics troubles, Gilbert said.

Nevertheless, Gilbert said, “I think it would rear its head again as people gear up for the 2010 election. … ‘Drain the swamp’ will be a huge card [Republicans] are going to play.—

Paul Singer contributed to this report.