Embattled long-time Rep. Charlie Rangel shocked Democratic leaders by taking to the House floor Tuesday afternoon to deliver an impassioned harangue from the floor of the House in defense of his decision to fight ethics allegations leveled against him.
His diatribe, which could hardly come at a worse time for Democrats facing disenchanted voters in the November midterms, ranged from defiant to apologetic. Rangel painted himself as a victim because the House Ethics committee has not yet informed him when his ethics case will be heard, he said.
"Have the ethics committee expedite this," he pleaded with his fellow House members. "Don't leave me swinging in the wind until November! If this is an emergency, and I think it is, to help our state and local governments out, what about me?! I don't want anybody to feel embarrassed, awkward. Hey, if I was you, I may want me to go away too. I am not going away. I am here!"
The House Ethics Committee has brought 13 violations against the New York Democrat, who was forced to step down from his chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in March.
Democratic leaders are worried that starting ethics trials against Rangel and fellow Congressional Black Caucus member Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., on the eve of the midterms could hurt Democrats in swing districts and cost them control of the House. Attempts to get Rangel and Waters to step down have been unsuccessful. Republicans have jumped on the ethics problems as evidence that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has failed to "drain the swamp" of ethical violations inside the Beltway, as she promised to do.
Hundreds of House members reportedly hurried to the floor to hear Rangel's impassioned plea. His meandering speech was interrupted briefly at one point by a smattering of applause from fellow Democrats.
Rangel's remarks came during a special session that was called so the House could vote on a $26 billion aid package to state governments.
"I am not asking for leniency," Rangel said. "I am asking for exposure of the facts. They've made a decision. Now I want you to make a decision."
Rangel said seeks the dignity that President Obama recently said he hoped Rangel could retain after a long Congressional career. But he declared himself innocent of all charges of corruption.
"If I can't get my dignity back here, then fire your best shot in getting rid of me through expulsion," Rangel told his colleagues.
Rangel apologized "for any embarrassment that I caused" to his fellow Democrats, but suggested he had made honest mistakes.
"You can't get so carried away with good intentions that you break the rules," he said. "Because the rules are there to make certain that we have some order, some discipline and respect for the rules. And I violated that. And I'm apologizing for it."
Rangel added: "I demand and deserve the right to be heard . . . But you're not going to tell me to resign to make you feel comfortable. So to all of those who tried to help me to help myself, let me appreciate it. And to those who disagree, I'm sorry, but that's one thing you can't take away from me."
MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell characterized the speech as "an extraordinary personal appeal."
MSNBC Washington correspondent Luke Russert commented that one senior Democratic aide had e-mailed him immediately after the speech stating: "This is a train wreck."
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