Increasingly impatient House Democratic leaders are prodding Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) to make a deal with the ethics committee before charges against him are unveiled on Thursday, top Democratic officials told POLITICO.
Fellow Democrats told POLITICO that they believe he’s dragging his feet in a futile effort at total vindication. Democrats worry that his stubbornness could add to their losses in November by helping Republicans, who have vowed to build a “culture of corruption” narrative using ads, mailings and talking points.
A senior Democratic aide said leaders will insist Rangel resolve the accusations before the August break. The leaders calculate that the political consequences could be grave if the matter drags out, and are considering going public with their demand if Rangel does not act on his own.
“Democrats don't want to give Republicans an opportunity this summer,” the aide said. “Rangel is very well liked, but no one is willing to lose their seat or chairmanship over him.”
House Republicans have developed extensive plans for using the ethics charges to inflict pain on Democratic candidates, including targeting recipients of donations from Rangel, a prolific fundraiser.
Democrats regained the House majority in part because of a pileup of ethical transgressions by Republicans. And Democratic leaders believe the Rangel charges will make an even juicier target for the GOP if endangered Democratic candidates are not able to say that the House has dealt with them.
Rangel, a Harlem legend who has been in Congress for half of his 80 years, was one of the most powerful Democrats on Capitol Hill. He can remain in Congress by accepting a previous offer from the ethics committee, which included an apology, the officials said.
Privately, colleagues say that since Rangel is unlikely regain the gavel as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, the fight isn’t worth it — for him, or for them.
“This will be the third straight week Democrats are off message — the first two weeks courtesy of the White House, with [Robert] Gibbs’ comments and the [Shirley] Sherrod controversy,” the aide said.
“Leadership knows that this is not the way that vulnerable Democrats want to head into the August break. Look for Rangel to face increasing pressure for a quick resolution.”
At a Friday news conference in Harlem, Rangel vowed to stay in Congress: “I’m in the kitchen, and I’m not walking out.”
The charges are related to Rangel's use of official stationery to raise money for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York, The Associated Press reported. AP said other charges relate to his use of four rent-subsidized apartments, and failure to report income as required on his annual financial disclosure forms.
A four-member investigative subcommittee of the ethics panel has been investigating Rangel for potential violations of House rules since 2008. POLITICO has reported that ethics committee members began secret settlement talks with Rangel back in May. When he continued to balk at a deal, the committee went public last week with the possibility of a trial.