A bipartisan panel Thursday recommended that embattled Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York be censured by the full House of Representatives for ethics violations, the stiffest penalty a member can face short of expulsion.
The House will likely take up the matter after Thanksgiving. Rangel could be the first congressman censured by the body in almost 30 years.
The Harlem Democrat had sought a lighter sanction. Before the vote, he asked the House Ethics Committee for leniency, pointing to his 40 years of service on Capitol Hill and saying that in the details of the ethical allegations against him “there was not even the suggestion of corruption.”
Unlike the defiant posture Rangel assumed earlier this week, the 80-year-old former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee seemed resigned and even dispirited, tearfully saying that there was “no excuse for my behavior” even as he maintained that he “did not try to enrich myself.”
He was joined in the committee room by a colleague, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a veteran of the civil rights movement, who said Rangel, known for his silver hair, gravelly voice and sartorial flourish, was “a good and decent man. I know this man. I think I know his heart.”
Rangel later released a statement apologizing to “my constituents and the American people.”
On Tuesday, an adjudicatory subcommittee found Rangel guilty of 11 of the 13 counts against him, including failure to declare rental income from a Dominican villa, improper solicitation of donations on a congressional letterhead and misuse of a rent-controlled apartment as a campaign office.
Rangel did not mount a defense, walking out on the proceedings after the panel would not grant his request for a delay so he could arrange for new legal counsel.
The committee, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, voted 9-1 to censure Rangel.
The last such vote came in 1983, when Rep. Dan Crane (R-Ill.) was censured by the House for inappropriate sexual behavior with a congressional page.
The ethics investigation began in July 2008 after Rangel asked the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to determine whether he violated House rules by soliciting contributions under a congressional letterhead for the Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York. That investigation soon expanded.
Rangel was elected to the House in 1970, unseating in the Democratic primary a longtime incumbent who had been reprimanded for ethical lapses. Despite his own controversies, Rangel was easily reelected in November to his 21st term.
The top Republican of the committee, Rep. Jo Bonner of Alabama, said the process “should have and could have been concluded earlier” to allow voters in Rangel’s district a chance to fully hear the charges against him and pass their own verdict.
Rangel responded by saying voters were well aware of the allegations before Election Day. “God knows there was enough derogatory things said about me that I don’t think, Mr. Bonner, that you have to feel sorry for my constituents,” he said.
Bonner, in a sense, seemed to be writing Rangel’s political obituary Thursday, saying that Rangel was “bigger than life” and had “once wielded one of the most powerful gavels in town.”
But Rangel, Bonner said, showed “little regard and respect either for the institution that he has claimed to love or for the people of his district in New York that he has claimed to proudly represent for more than 40 years.”
“He can no longer blame anyone other than himself for the position he now finds himself in,” Bonner said.
Rangel was similarly mournful. “I don’t know how much longer I have to live,” he said at one juncture.
Another prominent Democrat, Rep. Maxine Waters of Los Angeles, will face a similar ethics proceeding this month. Waters, a 10-term congresswoman, is accused of helping a bank in which her husband held a financial stake.