Outside editorial: Charlie Rangel's war

Posted: Thursday, July 29, 2010

The following editorial first appeared in the Chicago Tribune:

Politico reported Monday that House Democratic leaders are pushing U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel of New York to negotiate a deal over broad ethics charges against him so everybody can avoid a public trial. We're wondering, who is served by that?

It serves House Democrats, who would avoid the embarrassment of trying one of their most prominent members ... as the November election approaches.

It might even serve Rangel if the Democrats are so desperate to bury his problems that they'll cut a deal that saves his job.

It won't serve Rangel's constituents, or the rest of this country. Not at all.

The House ethics committee has been slogging through the Rangel investigation for two years. For much of that time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi coddled him, resisting demands that he step aside as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Finally that became too great an embarrassment. As Republicans pushed for his ouster, Rangel took a leave of absence earlier this year.

If Rangel and the ethics committee don't reach a deal by Thursday, there will be a full airing of the evidence backing the charges against him. That's exactly what needs to happen.

A full and open accounting. Anything less - any deal - will invite suspicion.

Pelosi - you remember, she said she was going to "drain the swamp" when she became speaker - needs to finally stop coddling Rangel. It's all too self-serving.

The ethics committee has been investigating all sorts of charges against Rangel. That he took corporate-paid trips to the Caribbean in violation of House rules. That he held four rent-stabilized New York apartments and used one as a campaign office. That he failed to disclose up to $1 million in assets. That he used his House position to hustle contributions for a center named for - guess who? - Charlie Rangel.

Poor Charlie. A few more weeks of delay and he would slip past a Sept. 14 Democratic primary in his district. Not that he has a lot to worry about: He's in a district drawn for him and his primary opponents have found that few people are willing to help bankroll a challenge to the lion of Harlem.

An airing of the charges against Rangel threatens to splatter all Democrats just weeks before the Nov. 2 general election. In sum, the charges speak to the arrogance that has consumed both major parties in Washington. The failure to curb that haughty attitude, that arrogance - we can do anything because we run this town - hobbled former Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert.

He failed to come down hard on his own members' lapses. And now Speaker Drain the Swamp is doing the same thing.

Rangel reportedly doesn't want to accept a settlement that forces him to retire. He wants a tap on the wrist, so he can bull his way to re-election. No surprise there. When the House ethics committee admonished him for some of his lapses earlier this year, he blamed his staff and criticized the committee.

"I don't have any fear at all, politically or personally, what they come up with," Rangel said recently.

Fine. Bring on the House trial.



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