WASHINGTON – Veteran Rep. Charles Rangel, the raspy-voiced, backslapping former chairman of one of Congress' most powerful committees, was censured by his House colleagues for financial misconduct Thursday in a solemn moment of humiliation in the sunset of his career.
After the 333-79 vote, the Democrat from New York's Harlem stood at the front of the House and faced Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she read him the formal resolution of censure.
Responding, he admitted he had made mistakes and said he was sorry he had put fellow House members in an embarrassing position. But he suggested the winds of politics were involved as well.
"In my heart I truly feel good," Rangel said. "A lot of it has to do with the fact that I know in my heart that I am not going to be judged by this Congress, but I am going to be judged by my life."
It was only the 23rd time in the nation's history that a House member received the most severe punishment short of expulsion. Rangel committed ethical and fundraising violations of House rules, including submitting misleading financial statements and failing to pay all his taxes, the chamber's ethics committee determined last month.
Before the censure vote, the House rejected an attempt to reduce his punishment to a simple reprimand. That vote was 267-146.
The dapper congressman, wearing a blue suit, blue tie and a blue handkerchief, told his fellow lawmakers, "I have made serious mistakes." But he pleaded with them to be "guided by fairness," taking account of his long record and his service in the Korean War.
Before that, the chairman of the ethics committee, Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, said the censure her committee recommended was consistent with a Democratic pledge to run "the most honest, most open, most ethical Congress in history."
She said Rangel "violated the public trust" while serving in influential positions including chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Rangel was at times contrite, saying that members of Congress "have a higher responsibility than most people" for ethical conduct and that senior lawmakers like himself "should act as a model" for newer lawmakers.
"I brought it on to myself," he said of his troubles.
Rep. Jo Bonner of Alabama, the top Republican on the ethics committee, said the nation's voters were paying attention to how the House dealt with a member who committed serious ethical violations.
"I have no doubt the people we work for will be watching with interest," Bonner said.
The House chamber was about two-thirds full. Many members had their heads bowed over mobile phones and a few iPads. Someone's BlackBerry pinged every time an e-mail arrived.
A half-dozen members spoke in Rangel's defense, arguing a reprimand was appropriate. A handful of Democrats applauded after one of them, Republican Rep. Peter King of New York, backed Rangel.
Rangel has said repeatedly he did not intend to break any House rules, and he walked out of the ethics committee's deliberations last month because, he said, he had been treated unfairly for "good faith mistakes." The panel found him guilty on 11 of 13 charges and overwhelmingly recommended that he be censured.
It's a difficult sunset for Rangel's long career. A jovial politician with a distinctive voice, Rangel was re-elected in November with more than 80 percent of the vote despite being under an ethics cloud for more than two years. He has argued that censure is reserved for corrupt politicians — and he's not one of them.
He also has been making a more personal plea, asking colleagues to remember that he won a Purple Heart after he was wounded in combat in Korea, to focus on his efforts for the underprivileged and to understand that he has great respect for the institution he has served for so long. He's tied for fourth in House seniority.
The House ethics committee painted Rangel as a congressman who ignored rules of conduct and became a tax scofflaw despite his knowledge of tax law from his long service on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Rangel chaired that panel until last March, when he stepped down after the panel — in a separate case — found that he improperly allowed corporations to finance two trips to Caribbean conferences.
Rangel shortchanged the IRS for 17 years by failing to pay taxes on income from his rental unit in a Dominican Republic resort. He filed misleading financial disclosure reports for a decade, leaving out hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets he owned.
He used congressional letterheads and staff to solicit donations for a monument to himself: a center named after him at City College of New York. The donors included businesses and their charitable foundations that had issues before Congress and, specifically, before the Ways and Means Committee.
Rangel also set up a campaign office in the Harlem building where he lives, despite a lease specifying the unit was for residential use only.
He has paid the Treasury $10,422 and New York state $4,501 to fulfill an ethics committee recommendation. The amounts were to cover taxes he would have owed on his villa income had the statute of limitations not run out on his tax bills.
The last previous House censure was in 1983, when two members, Reps. Gerry E. Studds, D-Mass., and Daniel Crane, R-Ill., were disciplined for having sex with teenage pages. Nine House members have been reprimanded, the latest last year when Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. was punished for a breach of decorum.
Wilson had yelled "You lie" at President Barack Obama during a nationally televised speech to Congress.
The objective for the House is to make the punishment fit the ethics violation. In past cases, a censure usually was reserved for congressmen who enriched themselves personally.
Rangel was not charged with lining his pockets. But the ethics committee found that his violations went on for so long that the pattern of misconduct deserved a censure.
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