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Nearly a year after Rep. Charles Rangel was censured on the House floor, his political rehabilitation is almost complete.
The dean of the New York delegation will probably never return to his glory days of wielding the gavel on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. And he will never be the fundraising draw that he once was for House Democrats, raising and dispensing hundreds of thousands of dollars to his colleagues.
But in the clearest sign yet of his return from political wastelands, several members of the House Democratic leadership, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), headlined a Rangel fundraiser at the Washington restaurant Bistro Bis Wednesday evening.
The strong show of support among Democratic leadership is a first for Rangel since he was publicly shamed last December. In addition to Pelosi, leaders who attended the fundraiser included House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Assistant Leader Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York and Ways and Means ranking member Sander Levin and the Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers — both of Michigan. Hoyer and Israel supported censuring Rangel, while Levin, Conyers and Clyburn opposed it. Pelosi, who had to preside over the reading of the censure resolution while Rangel stood disgraced in the well of the House, did not vote.
Pelosi’s office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening.
Rangel said he holds no bitterness toward those Democrats, including party leaders, who supported the censure resolution. “There’s no election this year,” Rangel told POLITICO when asked about the difference between 2010 and 2011.
Rangel also took a shot at the House Ethics Committee, which he said mistreated him during the probe into his personal finances, which lasted more than two years.
“It’s my understanding that they’re under heavy investigation,” Rangel said with a smile. “I never felt morally wrong. They [the Ethics Committee] made it clear that I had not done anything self-serving or corrupt.”
The congressman added: “I knew the political situation the House found itself in. And I knew that there are certain obstacles that do better under the bus than they do with members having to explain that he’s the greatest guy in the world. Now there’s no bus, now there’s no election. And now, my accusers are under investigation.”
The Rangel event, which solicited as much as $5,000 from attendees, was expected to raise $50,000 with about 40 people attending, according to a source familiar with the event.
This isn’t the first show of support Rangel has received from Democratic colleagues this year. In August, a gala at the Plaza Hotel in New York City marked his 81st birthday. That event included Empire State Democratic power players such as Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Reps. Joe Crowley, Israel, Nita Lowey, Carolyn Maloney, Gregory Meeks, Jerry Nadler, Edolphus Towns and Nydia Velazquez, among other state and local politicians. It demonstrated that Rangel, at least as far as New York Democrats are concerned, is no longer as toxic as he was when he faced off with the House Ethics Committee over long-running problems related to his personal finances.
After a “trial” by the Ethics panel last November — which Rangel walked out of in protest because he did not have an attorney — the New York Democrat was found guilty on 11 ethics violations, including charges that he had misused federal resources, failed to declare hundreds of thousands of dollars in income and assets on his annual financial statements and failed to pay income taxes on a Dominican Republic home, among others.
The House voted 333-79, with 21 members abstaining, to censure Rangel, a crushing blow for a lawmaker who had served 40 years in Congress, after replacing the scandal-plagued Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
As the first House member to be censured in three decades, it appeared that Rangel’s political viability was in tatters.
But Rangel has slowly begun to claw his way back to respectability, and he continues to play a significant role in Democratic Caucus politics and on the powerful tax-writing panel. Rangel, though, understands that he is no longer in charge, according to Democratic lobbyists.
Rangel also was heartened by a POLITICO story in July, exposing allegations of wrongdoing by two former Ethics Committee aides. Those aides, Morgan Kim and Stacy Sovereign, were suspected by the former staff director, Blake Chisam, of improperly sharing information with Republicans on the panel, potentially endangering the cases against Rangel and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). Waters has been accused of improperly intervening during the 2008 U.S. fiscal crisis on behalf of a minority-owned bank in which her husband held $350,000 in stock. Waters has denied the charges, and like Rangel, has bitterly fought the Ethics Committee.
In a Dec. 2010 memo to then-Ethics Committee Chairman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Chisam said that Kim and Sovereign’s alleged interactions with Republicans on the Ethics Committee “would have so tainted the proceedings that there would have been no option but to move to dismiss” the case if Rangel offered a challenge to the charges. The Ethics Committee places strict limits on the sharing of evidence during “trials” for lawmakers in which committee members act as prosecutors, and lawmakers act as a jury.
Following the POLITICO report, an outside counsel, Billy Martin, was brought in to probe the Ethics Committee and its handling of the Waters case.
Rangel has not formally reacted to the POLITICO story, but the veteran Democratic lawmaker said he is “watching what happens very closely.”
After spending nearly $2 million last Congress on his defense team, only to part ways with his lawyers weeks before the trial, Rangel has stepped up his fundraising activities. He has raised more than $653,000 this year and has reported more than $348,000 in cash on hand on Sept. 30, according to records on file with the Federal Election Commission.
Several prominent K-Streeters have been major supporters and fundraisers for Rangel this cycle, including Patton Boggs’s Tommy Boggs, Chuck Brain of Capitol Hill Strategies, Izzy Klein of Podesta Group and David Jones of Capitol Counsel.
“He didn’t have anything to come back from,” veteran K-Streeter Brain insisted. “Charles Rangel has been the same Charles Rangel. He hasn’t missed a beat.”
Jones of Capitol Counsel, who has known Rangel for more than 15 years, said Rangel has a “reservoir of support” for two reasons — Rangel’s always worked with the business community and he has deep personal relationships that go back decades.
“They aren’t going to abandon him and they didn’t,” Jones said. “Right now, he’s a force inside the caucus and inside the committee.”